If you are anything like me, you spend a great deal of time thinking about how to manage technology in your household and wondering how much screen time is healthy. If you have a Teen in your home, you are living with a ‘digital citizen’ – someone who has grown up in the online and smartphone world. This can be overwhelming and many parents have the inclination to either try to control it too tightly (causing major friction), or checking out completely because of overwhelm. Here are some tips that I have used in my own home and in my Coaching practice with other parents of Teens.
Be open to their perspective - Because we are not digital citizens, but rather visitors, or immigrants to this world at best (you belong to the last generation of people who had a childhood that was internet-free!), we do not fully understand how important their devices are to them. These represent their connections to their peers, their projects, and unlimited information. They do not think of them the same way that we do. Sit and talk with your child and try your best to listen to their point of view about it. You may be surprised at how well they can articulate the importance of technology to them. This may help you have more patience with it.
Differentiate between ‘consuming’ and ‘producing’ - Is your Teen only playing games and watching shows (consuming), or are they accomplishing things, connecting with people and creating stuff (producing)? Once I got my head around the fact that the bulk of my son’s time on technology was actually spent creating and producing, I felt less of a need to limit his time, and less afraid of it. Kids are making movies, writing programs and creating art. When my son is consuming, I make sure he is able to tell me the transferrable skills he is learning that he can take out into the off-line world. He may be teaching himself a new programming language on YouTube, or improving his decision-making skills in a survival game. They are doing countless creative things that contribute to a better, more forward-thinking world and we cannot dismiss these things and throw the baby out with the bath water by calling it all ‘screen time’.
Be involved and up-to-date - Have them tell you what they are learning and orient you to the apps that are their favourites. I’ve even met parents who pay their kids for every new app that they show them. Be their digital mentors when it comes to communication. Know the language and the tools so that you have an awareness of what is going on and can be their best support if anything goes wrong. You can articulate your family values in relation to technology and teach them to use it meaningfully and responsibly. If you also have family values about balancing time on technology with other social time and activities, don’t be afraid to also articulate (and enforce) your values around this too.
Become informed of the risks - There are many resources for you to use to better understand the potential risks there are to your child. Read them, go to presentations, and talk to other parents. Ask your local Parent Advisory Committee or school to bring in experts. Some of the risks are real – sexting, pornography, predators and cyber-bullying - and the more information you have about them, the better equipped you are to talk to your Teens about them.