I recently had my sixteen year old niece over to babysit and was extremely pleased with the job she did. She was timely. She was responsible. She did an exceptional job in getting the baby to sleep and caring for her while we were out. We left home around 7pm after the baby was down and my niece was sitting on the couch playing with her phone as we left. When we returned (6 hours later) my niece was still awake and on her phone. I asked what she had done all night and she said, “Nothing, just played on my phone.” I was a bit surprised but then I remembered my teenage years and how I always tried to stay up late on the phone talking to friends and chalked it up to the “teenage thing.” The next morning we all woke up and the first thing that she did was pick up her phone and check Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat to “find out what she had missed.” We made breakfast and served it, but like a magnet attached to her hand there was the incessant and attention seeking iPhone. When she went to shower or use the restroom she took her phone with her. We attempted several conversations but and it was hard to get a word in with her because she was on her phone. As a matter of fact, she spent the entire day completely consumed with her phone. It was difficult to engage her at any level – troubling. I have a great respect for teenagers – I truly believe many people view them as a nuisance and don’t believe they have much to offer in those challenging stages of life. I disagree wholeheartedly. I think teens are exceptional and when given the opportunity can teach us adults many, many things. I have even chosen a career in which I can work with teens to encourage them and give them a voice. But even for me the cell phone use was maddening. I literally wanted to grab the phone and throw it off of our 2nd floor balcony and yell “HEY THERE!!! LIFE IS HAPPENING OUT HERE AND NOT IN THAT STUPID PHONE!” Of course I didn’t but it did get me thinking…
Disconnecting from technology is difficult these days on everybody, particular teenagers. The good ol’ days of riding down the street on your bike to meet up with your friends are gone…now they just “hit them up on Twitter or Instagram.” It can be challenging as a parent to allow independence and creativity while still setting effective boundaries in regards to the use of technology. Recently a three-year research study was conducted by the Brown University School of Medicine and the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology reflecting the effects of technology on our kids. The results were such that clinically, we are seeing an increase in symptoms typically associated with anxiety and depression. The symptoms include: short-term memory problems, decreased attention span, sleep deprivation, excessive moodiness and general dissatisfaction. The study results were such that when a child or adolescent unplugs, particularly at night, the symptoms decrease. Bottom line, unplugging is necessary.
So-as a parent how do you get your teen to disconnect? How can you allow them the space to express themselves via social media and communicate using today’s technology while encouraging them to look up and see the world around them? How do we ensure their safety? Here a few tips to make it a bit easier:
- Give in…a little. Let’s face it- technology is here to stay. As parents you need to learn how this stuff works. Teens love to text- so text your teen. Figure out how social media works so that you can be aware of the dangers and limitations. Google it. If you do not know how to “Google” it reach out for help J
- Don’t be the Secret Cyber Stalker Parent: You don’t have to secretly set up a Twitter or Facebook account and cyber-stalk them… just communicate. Tell your teen what the expectations are for social media and that you will be monitoring their activity. Let them know what the dangers of posting things you can NEVER EVER take back. They need to know that you are looking and they need to know what the boundaries are. Respect them enough to let them know what is acceptable and what is not.
- Set time limits: Be very clear on when it is inappropriate to be on your phone. For example, when we are at the table we talk to each other and not on the phone. When we have company over, no phones. Leave your phones in the living room before going to bed. Put this in writing if necessary.
- There must be consequences: You cannot have limits without clear consequences. This does not have to be complicated. For example: a drop in your grades=less time on your phone daily. The more you communicate the less room for discussion when consequences are implemented. To an extent of course – part of being a teen is testing the limits, so be ready. Again, put this in writing if necessary.
- Be an example: Disconnect yourself as well! Model good behavior. If they cannot eat dinner and text, neither can you.
- NO texting and driving. Period. No exceptions.
- TIME: Spend time with your teenager. Find out what THEY like and DO IT. If you hate video games and your kid loves it – try it! When its time to do something you like be sure it does not involve technology like a walk in the park or time at the driving range. Teach them to enjoy life unplugged and to remember how important a real conversation with another human being is. There is no better way to get to know what your teen is doing than to talk to them and leave an open door for them to talk to you. YOU are important to them regardless of how often they say they hate you.
- Let them practice: You will have to give them some wiggle room at some point. How can they practice all the good things you have taught them if you don’t trust them enough to give it a shot? I am all about having boundaries, teenagers need and want them, but have a little faith in the work you have done and let them prove you wrong before bringing down the hammer.