Television.  DVD player.  Smart phone.  MP3 player.  E-reader.  Smart television.  Gaming system.  Smart watch.  Smart refrigerator?  But is any of this really making us smarter?  Buzz words like screen time, parental controls, cloud, analytics, bandwidth…flood our daily lives.  We can’t avoid technology.  Things are here now, like the instant access to information via the omni-present internet, and becoming mainstream at any moment, like self-driving cars, that our grandparents, and maybe even our parents, probably could never have imagined!

Certainly, I enjoy my share of technology’s bombardment.  I can seriously keep myself busy for hours surfing Pinterest for unattainable crafty mom ideas, browsing any number of shopping sites or searching for my next homestead.  Truly, I am throwing no stones about the involvement of modern technology in my own life.  I acknowledge that the amazing capabilities of technology are both fantastically convenient and dangerously addictive.

I am struggling with the introduction of technology to my two young teens.  While we waited a conservatively longer time than many peer parents, we quickly went from zero to hours of screen time!  I recently raised the frustrating question to my Facebook friends about how to best moderate my teens’ usage and not let it negatively impact them, with many great perspectives from my tribe.  My biggest problem has become my kids’ petulant and downright pissy attitudes when they are denied access to their favorite piece of technology…for her it’s her smart phone (a comparably inexpensive Google Pixel 3a, $300-ish vice the more than double priced iPhone, even refurbished) and for him the XBox which we only got a year ago.

Before diving into this post, and just as a concerned parent, I did some reading about technology and its impacts.  Let’s be honest, the impacts effect us all, not just our vulnerable teens.  Have you checked your screen time on your own smart phone lately?  I searched for information from reputable sources and mostly found it universally indicated that excess screen time is thought to contribute to increases in depression, anxiety and overall reduced mental health, especially in adolescents.  It hampers the ability to learn normal, developmental social skills.  Pick your source, it’s all over Google results.  I then sought some statistics on adolescent technology use.  Pew Research Center performs social science research and data collection, and recently conducted demographic research on Teens, Social Media and Technology (2018).  Surveyed teens reported the top benefit of technology use was staying connected with family and friends.  Living overseas, and having connected with friends far and wide via my Facebook question, this benefit is clear to me.  The same teens reported the worst impact as bullying and rumor-spreading.  Certainly we’ve all read the sad stories of teens killing themselves over cyber bullying that their grieving parents knew nothing about.  So there are obviously good and bad, I just need to find the balance for my family.

So my wise associates have come up with lots of great ways to go forward, based on their own parenting experiences:

Screen time limits-set a specific limit on screen time usage.  Maybe it depends upon age, or what type of technology is being requested?  Several really sensible comments were made on this solution, including little to no screen time for entertainment during the week, and more on the weekends, so not to distract from necessary homework and studying during the school week.  This was the most popular response.

App limits-limit the use of apps, specifically ones that are for entertainment purposes only.  I personally am concerned about the plethora of social media apps like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc…some of these I never even knew existed until my teen got her phone!  

Techno-parental controls-genius!  Services/apps like Orbi and AT&T Smart Home allow the parent to control the internet connectivity to specify devices in the house.  Wanna be sure your teen isn’t using her phone in bed at night?  Turn off her internet!  Genius, I say!

Earned screen time-many approaches can be applied here.  Give your kids chores to earn screen time (or at least require completion of chores first), a required amount of outdoor or physical activity, or positive participation in a family activity with screen time being a sort of reward.

Modeling-as the adults, we need to model the same technology etiquette that we expect of our kids.  Draw the line and adhere to it yourself…no cell phones at the dinner table or in bed, limit your device use when home with the family, engage actively with them and help them learn ways to be busy and enjoy their time without electronics.  (Another tidbit that is pervasive online is that kids NEED some boredom to fuel their creativity.)

Chill out-relax!  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the comments of a couple of my slightly more progressive friends, both of whom have older kids than mine and have found stricter limitations for their kids to be counterproductive and not in keeping with modern needs, even for school work. They specifically have tried some methods and came to the conclusion that this is just a rite of passage of this generation-learning how to moderate their technology use while also ensuring they are capable and adept in a technologically ruled world.  One friend even mentioned that her family didn’t have cable as a kid so they loved going to other homes that did have cable, and this is the cable of our kids’ generation!  Same here, Gretchen!  I remember which house and grade I was in when we first got cable tv!

I really appreciate my compadres’ input and sharing of experiences!  (That’s actually one great thing I love about social media!)  You may ask now, what solution did I decide upon?  

As a start, their chores and homework must be completed before the screen time begins.  I’ve still not completely figured out the penalty for neglecting completion of chores…will it be a rewards and demerit style system?  I dunno yet.

For the daughter’s smart phone, she will turn it in upon return from school while completing homework.  Online homework requirements will be accomplished via our family desktop or laptop, so that I can remove her school email from her cell phone and apply screen time limits directly to her phone.  It will be adjusted allowing more time on weekends.  Don’t judge, but recently I checked her screen time and it was 23 hours in under a week!  I couldn’t believe it.  Turns out she gets on Instagram “calls” with her friends and then they play video games “together”!

Photo by EVG photos from Pexels

For my son, who doesn’t have a cell phone but loves the Xbox and tablet for games, he will get similar screen time as his sister for his tablet gaming, similarly with longer weekend times.  However, the rule in our house of no Xbox during the week will stay intact.  This does impact him more than his sister, because he uses the Xbox more, but his screen use has been a bit more dramatic in regards to affecting his mood and behaviors, so his limits are a little bit stricter.

I made the novice mistake of too much leniency in the beginning and now will have the struggle of reigning it in.  Wish me luck!  Please share your ideas if you have other ways that have worked in your family!

Cheers and love,

Christine

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