According to a 2019 Common Sense Media survey, teenagers spend an average of 9 hours per day on digital technology. This includes entertainment like playing games, music, watching videos, and texting with friends.
Or, maybe not.
We hear a lot of parents complain about their tween or teen having their fingers glued to their phone.
Surprisingly, roughly half of teens ages 13 to 17 are themselves worry they spend too much time on their cellphones.
Here are some tips to help manage screen time with teens.
Track the numbers
Check your teen’s screen time tracker to see exactly how much time they are “screening” and on what activities. Compare your use to your teen’s. Maybe even make a bet about who has less time (beware, this may be a surprise!).
Track the data over a week or two before bringing your concerns up with your teen. Hard data speaks louder than a parent complaining.
Pay attention to how your kids act during and after watching TV, playing video games, or hanging out online. See if their use is balanced with healthy activities like being outdoors, physical activity, in-person socializing, or other leisure activities.
Describe Concern Clearly
What exactly is being impacted by screen time? Is homework not getting done? Is your teen isolating in their room, and acting grumpy, irritable, or down? Are they turning down social invitations to game online?
This helps you explain your concern about how their screen use is affecting their life, instead of just a frustration to you.
Collaborate on Other Options
When you do bring it up, focus on encouraging ideas or solutions to reducing time, rather than imposing hard limits. Teens respond better when they are treated as a collaborator with some control over their own life.
When you put in limits without other choices, it does not solve the problem or meet the underlying need (e.g., boredom, loneliness, etc.).
Make a list of options. Get a job, learn a skill, take up a hobby, complete a project, join a sport, club, or group. Provide rewards or incentives for other activities.
Invite them to connect with you; play cards, binge watch a show, head out for ice cream. Focus on
Practice What You Preach
Check yourself. Are you guilty of heavy screen use at home? Distracted during dinner, conversations with your teen, or while watching a show? Teens learn as much from what we say as what we do.
Try a family screen schedule, like “screen free meals” or a central charging station where all phones/tablets are plugged in before bed. This sets equal expectations and cuts down on things like checking notifications before bed or upon waking.
I have memories of spending hours “on the phone” while painting my nails or doing homework as a teen. Even then, the phone was my lifeline to connect with friends and build bonds.
Today’s youth connect through technology, just as we did by phone calls or outside hanging out. Peer relationships are critical at this age, even when that focus annoys parents.
Take a breath and embrace acceptance. We can’t control our kids, only guide them. We can control how we react and lean in to connect instead of regulate.
You can get through this.
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