Though-out this pandemic, technology has become an even more integral part of all our lives, especially in regions which have experienced extended lockdowns. For our teens, online schooling, socialising and entertainment have heavily relied on their ability to connect online. And while this has been a wonderful thing, it has also come with its challenges. I am currently speaking to a lot of parents and educators who are concerned about “tech overloaded teens”. These are teenagers who are struggling with higher than normal levels of disturbed sleep, poor mental health, increased online bullying and online risk taking.
A mum recently shared these words with me – I know what I am doing is working today, but that can all change tomorrow. I loved this. Careers are not the only thing which have had to pivot over the past year. We have been pivoting within our homes too. We are making moment by moment decisions based on what is working now, given the circumstances in front of us. If your teen’s increased technology use is no longer working in their best interests, this blog is for you.
Below are five “compassionately assertive” tips for parents to consider:
Thought 1. Work on buy-in
It is important that we keep our homes safe, positive spaces. This means that there are times when increased boundaries are necessary. However, increased boundaries are often only effective if they are mutually agreed upon, so buy-in is important. Teenager buy-in doesn’t mean they will 100% agree with you (or enjoy your involvement). It does however mean they understand why changes need to be made. If possible, try and make changes slowly. Even one change will feel like a big deal to a young person. Simple things like designating tech-free times (the dinner table, bathrooms and bedrooms after 9 p.m.) or cleaning up newsfeeds can make a big impact but are best introduced one at a time.
Thought 2. Focus on what you can do
It’s important to acknowledge that there is a lot that you can’t control when it comes to teen’s online life. Ask yourself, “What can I do?” rather than “What can’t I do?” Staying close, being attentive and offering a listening ear can never go astray. Try to help teens evaluate their newsfeeds and encourage them to unfollow, block or delete those accounts who are not playing a positive role in their lives. It’s important that our teens regularly consider who holds their attention and time.
Thought 3. Think replacement
Let’s acknowledge that the pandemic has made it impossible for some teens to access extra curricula activities, and many have had significant interruptions to their extra curricula commitments and social life. If you want your teen to cut back on tech time, ask yourself what are you offering as a replacement. At times boredom is an okay alternative, as it can be a wonderful source of motivation for creativity. However, the transition will easier if we can offer them an engaging replacement.
Thought 4. Give yourself permission to lead
I have seen parents dismiss their better judgement in order to accommodate their teen’s perceived needs. An example might be allowing them to stay up all night on their phone because they can’t sleep. Another example might be allowing them to text during dinner time because their friend is distressed. If this is you, now is the time to give yourself permission to take the lead. It is okay to change your mind. If you are still paying the bill, you still have a lot more say than you realise.
Thought 5: Focus on wellbeing
It is difficult to quantify how much tech time is too much, because each teen’s brain interacts differently with it. Some teens are genetically more vulnerable, and others have life experiences which put them at a higher risk. Many parents instinctively know that technology is closely linked to their teen’s poor mental health. If your teenager is unhappy and disengaged, yet glued to their phone or gaming devise, chances are technology is not playing a positive role in their lives.
RECOMMENDED READING: For more content on this topic check out my book “Parenting Teenage Girls in the Age of a New Normal.”
WEBINAR: 13 and SOCIAL. This webinar includes loads of bonuses so you walk away with insights and tools to manage technology in your home. Click here to find out more: https://michellemitchell.org/13-and-social-media/