In my first two blogs I discussed the pitfalls and challenges parents face regarding their children’s usage of technology. I explored the importance of parents developing the mindset of becoming “digital parents” and the benefits of conversations wherein technology can be realistically discussed and managed in the home. This blog will address the strategies and interventions that might be additionally helpful. I am suggesting that initially parents take the time to evaluate and assess the degree of conflict that is already occurring in the home around technology use. You can then better determine how much attention is required to be pro-active and utilize preventative techniques or address the need for stricter interventions.
I have drawn from the research and studies done on the effects of technology on social-emotional and cognitive development and my own experience as a clinician and educator. I have developed a four-pronged approach that will help orient this discussion to address a parent’s role in managing technology. I have titled these four pillars, Communication, Self-Esteem, Discipline, and Responsibility.
Communication is the first pillar necessary to develop healthy interactions and relationships. If you can establish consistent and congruent, verbal and non-verbal messages you will be at a tremendous advantage. Give your children clear, concise messages regarding the use of technology. As you pay closer attention it might become evident to you that you have been using computers, phones, gaming software, and television as substitutes for baby-sitters. It will take time to change this pattern. Because of the high levels of dopamine produced from interacting with electronics your child has grown accustomed to heightened levels of stimulation and arousal. When you begin to restrict electronics, there will typically be a lot of protest and time spent complaining about being bored. Spend time talking to your child about the importance of developing other interests and that when one consistently uses external sources of entertainment, it interferes with one’s own creativity and imagination. It is permissible to even apologize to your child, explaining that you didn’t have the newest research and therefore didn’t understand the importance of monitoring screen time because habits can so easily become addictive. Also, talk about the importance of re-setting the brain, as it needs other forms of engagement and a rest from technology.
Consider prescribing to the rule that there should be no electronic devices on during certain times of the day. Even if this is a new intervention, discuss the importance of both conversation and quiet, down- time away from technology. It is essential to eliminate electronics during mealtimes and to work in the direction of having technology off an hour before bedtime. All devices need to be outside of the bedroom. Keep in mind that the earlier you start having these conversations, the easier it will be when you are dealing with your child as a teen-ager.
Self-Esteem is the second pillar. This refers to your child forming beliefs and thoughts about him/herself. Parents are the first mirrors a child experiences, and they provide a child with his/her first positive and negative experiences. These are the burgeoning seedlings of how a self begins to form. As children grow and reach puberty, the social group becomes increasingly influential and has a tremendous effect on a young person’s self-esteem. Social media is a powerful tool and can be either positive or very damaging, depending upon its use. When social media is used as a means to connect with friends and network and share information it is considered safe and non-threatening. As soon as one crosses into the domain of either ‘show-off’ or ‘cyber-bully’ and starts using social media to create competition, one-upmanship, or manipulative put-downs, there are problems. It is important to know your child’s social groups. Discuss and ask to see what he/she is doing on social media accounts. Some parents make it a rule that they are included on their child’s Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter accounts. Unfortunately accounts such as Snapchat are set up so that images disappear immediately and are not easy to track. It was brought to my attention that certain teens posting selfies are quite oblivious to how provocative and sexy they can appear. It is important for parents to be monitoring these pictures as much as possible. You can never be certain who your child is talking to on the internet. Therefore, if you remain concerned after consistent monitoring and discussion, consider using an app such as Social Judo which will provide you with current content on your child’s phone; analyze it, and report back to you if there is content of concern or potential danger. Additionally, a brand new app has just been introduced by Facebook called Messenger Kids. It can only be set up by parents but does allow children under the age of thirteen to message family and friends and add contacts with parental approval.
Responsibility is the third pillar. As a parent you have to make the executive decision in determining your child’s level of maturity and agency. There is an increasing trend to postpone the use of smart phones until the young person is at least sixteen. Instead, parents are opting to buy their tweens and even teens flip phones. The rule of thumb is to hold off as long as possible. The more exposure your child has to technology at a younger age, the higher the risk that he/she will be exposed to inappropriate internet sites, become addicted to video games, and develop a higher risk for becoming isolated and lonely, and less focused on other interests. Responsibility for a young person additionally occurs in incremental steps. The desire for novelty is a known fact. A major challenge in adolescence and into your twenties is to learn impulse control, decision-making, and problem-solving skills, and develop goals in order to help you plan for your future. All of these abilities help you grow into becoming a mature, responsible adult. As Jean Twenge’s research has shown, IGEN which includes our present adolescent population grew up always knowing the internet, and are showing signs of delayed development across the board. In fact the word adult, once used only as a noun, is being referred to as adulting, the verb tense, which means learning to become an adult. Once your teen begins driving, consider a tracking device. This can be discussed openly, the message being conveyed is, “You are expected to go and be where you say you are. Alter your plans and it is imperative that you inform us of those changes.”
Last, is the pillar of Discipline, which comes from the word disciple, means “to teach.” Parents need to be role-models which require you to teach through example. Children pay attention to everything their parents do. When you are with your child, stay engaged and present and make sure that your electronics are turned off and put away. Educateempowerkids.org has some excellent resources for parents on technology. Additionally, look at healthychildren.org click on Media under the header Family Life. You will find how to create your personal Family Media Plan, the format for which allows you to map out a plan for each child. Familiesmanagingmedia.com offers substantial information and tips on all of the aforementioned topics.
Our children are tomorrow’s future. It is our job to provide them with the support, guidance, and direction required for them to develop into engaged, productive, and fulfilled individuals, who are capable of investing in their personal lives and futures.
About the author: Randy Hillier has been a practicing psychotherapist in the South Bay for thirty-seven years, working with adults, teens, and children. Her new book, Teeneagram, Identity Search Made Easy offers teens, tweens, and parents a refreshing perspective on personality types and communication styles. www.teeneagram.com