Clearly, many teens spend a lot of time in front of their computers and texting on cell phones — and much of that time is spent social networking. “Tweens’ and teens’ computer time has jumped 300 percent since 1999.” (Entertainment Software Association, 2010). But is it that all bad? Surveys show the answer to that question is…no.
Common Sense Media in a recent study found that in over 1000 teens, 13 to 17-year olds had a pretty healthy perspective on social media. “Teens are aware of the dangers of excessive usage and the online potential of cruelty. However, most young adults say social media and technology positively affect their social and mental well-being. Social media helps teens communicate easily with friends. Surveyed teens also believe social networks help them to be more outgoing, confident and less depressed.”
With that in mind what does a parent do if they are concerned their teen is too connected? Setting realistic limits is the key. Some suggestions…
Check Overall Screen Time: It’s important to set family limits on overall screen and electronics time. Many parents forget about the handheld gadgets when thinking of screen time, limiting TV or computer time but not cell or iPad use, for example. As parents, we are the gatekeepers and our job is to help our kids set healthy habits for electronics use. That starts by establishing when it’s acceptable to use electronics, regardless of how many email accounts, social media profiles, video games or chat groups they participate in. Most teens can decide what they want to use their connected time for (within reason, of course) and the number of electronic activities they participate in shouldn’t increase their overall daily time limitations.
For example, if the house rule is no more than two hours a day spent with leisure electronics activities, your teen’s choice to spend those two hours playing Wii is theirs to make – it just means they won’t have time to update their Facebook status about it. Some parents have found success with a reward system that earns additional screen time through chore completion, reading, or physical activities which would allow a kid who got carried away and used up their time to “buy” a few extra minutes.
Clear Choices, not just “House Rules:” It’s important that teenagers be given the reasons behind your choices, not just arbitrary rules. Reducing distractions to improve school work and allow family together time are great reasons to limit overall electronics use.
Be Specific and Consistent: Make your family rules device-specific and control the device so you don’t have to spend as much energy policing behavior. “No texting when doing homework” will be easier to enforce if you make it a habit to collect cell phones and internet-connected devices when everyone walks in the door. Once homework is done, phones can be handed back within the parameters that make you comfortable. For example, everyone puts their electronics away and the TV is turned off at meal times, and for the last hour before bed.
What about the time between finishing homework and dinner, or on weekends when there’s no homework to do? It’s ok to have different limits on different days, as long as you’re consistent. If you make usage rules on the fly, you’re going to have a teen that will push the limits every time.
Be the Best Example: Set family rules that even the adults abide by. “Do as I say, Not as I Do” simply will not work. If you say “no phones at dinner,” but then pick up yours to check a text, it sends the wrong message. Use your own challenges to highlight why you are using tools like parental controls to help teens stay focused. Did you lose an hour trolling Pinterest when you should have been working? Admit your missteps and let them know that you’re working to reduce tech distractions in your day as well.
Control if Necessary: Parental control software like Netnanny allows you to limit access to specific sites by setting time restrictions, limiting when sites can be accessed (say, only 5-6pm and 7-8pm) and setting a total limit on computer time for each child. It can be challenging to limit distractions when kids are using the computer for their homework. These types of tools work in conjunction with parental oversight to keep your kids on track and focused on their studies.
For a great hardware solution, I also really like the Mikko Que (http://www.insightmediaintl.com/) because it allows parents to set personal limits on all devices (TV, gaming consoles, etc). When the time’s up, Mikko will physically disable the device so your kids can’t argue or cheat their way around your limits.
What are your House Rules?