A modern teen and a screen go hand in hand (quite literally, if you consider how their smart phones are glued to their palms). While this phenomenon is a natural product of the digital age, it is also very unnatural on many levels. Too much screen time hurts their developing brains, negatively affects the way they relate to others, is very harmful to physical wellbeing and brings with it endless psychological and social safety hazards.
We all know this, right? Yet, digital devices offer so much convenience for a parent – not least of which is a way to keep adolescents busy during a holiday while we need to work or just want to relax (often also in front of a screen!).
So, with what tactics do we tackle these technological troubles?
Contract instead of command
A good strategy for holiday health would not be to go all authoritarian on your teen and simply let them abandon all electronic devices cold turkey – especially not if you were the one who allowed these items into the home.
Adolescents like to understand things. Get them on the same page (which is not a webpage…) by discussing the hazards of digital overdose as found in research. Help them to want to do less screen time by realising how detrimental it is for them.
Then, let them help establish new rules. Lay down a guideline for when and how phones, computers, gaming devices and TV may be used (e.g. limited hours of the day, only in the living room, etc.). Have rewards and consequences for compliance and non-compliance. Consider drawing up a contract for the use of digital devices (see this example).
Search for stand-in solutions
Although we should not take the task upon ourselves to provide non-stop, first-class entertainment to our children during holidays, we also should be aware of the fact that screen kids may find it very hard to discover alternative boredom busters and may need our help with this. With all the modern-day stimulation out there, we do have a harder job of contending for our children’s attention – that is unfortunately an inescapable part of the parenting package in the digital era.
Try to include lots of outdoor activities and quality, screen-free family time. Figure out what your teen enjoys most about his phone and think of creative substitutes. Is he a gamer? Get a couple of intriguing board games or suggest a hobby. Is she reading lots of blogs? Introduce her to the library and get her some (censored) magazines. Is she chatting to friends all day? Try to create many opportunities for actual social engagement, like having her friends over for a bake-off.
Identify identity issues
Part of the reason why teens are obsessed with electronic devices lies in identity. We live in a culture ruled by consumerism and being accepted often implies having acceptable stuff – also electronics. On top of this, the urge to display their own lives on social media and to follow others’ (mostly with a tinge of jealousy or FOMO) is directly related to issues of identity. In other words, they may get very anxious without their digital devices, because some of their identity is locked up in it.
To withstand this character confusion, you need to help teenagers establish a healthy sense of self. They need to know their worth and that their lives have much more meaning than the brand of phone they can boast about or the selfie they can post. This is not a simple matter and will take diligent parenting to master. Again, nothing can replace quality time with your children during which you encourage them, make them feel valuable and help them shape their characters.
Mentoring means monitoring
While children are under your care, you have the right – or rather the responsibility – to control what they consume online. There is software available that can help you with this task. We especially like OurPact, a screen time management app that can block app or internet use, schedule device use (e.g. block devices after bedtime) and grant parents remote access to their children’s devices. The feature of time allowances for device use also provides an excellent option to deduct screen time minutes as a consequence for disobedience. Other practical parenting software includes Norton Family Premier, Net Nanny or PhoneSheriff. Research your options and install your choice on your child’s devices. Let your teen know about this – the idea is to help them, not to “catch them out”.
Monitoring your child’s online habits will also mean that you keep a finger on who he visits. You are allowed to prohibit your child from going to certain friends’ houses. This may seem like you are discriminating, so have a good conversation with them about clashing family values without being openly judgmental. Furthermore, you will need to create an atmosphere in your own home where your teen can feel safe to invite others into instead of wanting to escape from it.
It’s a family thing
Ultimately, you should cultivate a non-digital family climate if you want your child to maintain this lifestyle during the holiday and beyond. Put a ban on mobile phones during meals and other family times. Have a station where the whole family’s devices can charge overnight – teenagers should not sleep with a phone next to the bed as it can greatly influence proper sleep which in turn affects proper growth and cognitive functioning.
And yes, this means that you will have to make some changes yourself in order to lead by example, but luckily it will be beneficial to your own wellbeing too!
May your holidays be blessed with actual family fun and not merely #familyfun social media posts!
Need more parenting pointers for the holidays? Read here.
And when it is time to get back to reality, these guidelines could help you re-establish routines.