Are You Struggling with Your Child’s Digital Disconnect?

Last month I had the distinct privilege of speaking in front of parents and employees at a local middle school.  My subject was parenting in the age of distraction and many parents came in, eager to learn about parenting through the teen years.  After introducing the parents to some of the neurological alterations that happen in the adolescent years, I dug into  issues around electronics.  That’s where I hit a nerve!

Lots of parents struggle to figure out this particularly sticky issue.  When do I give my kid a cell phone? How much screen time should I allow at various ages?  How do I make sure my kid is safe from internet predators and scam artists?  What’s Snapchat?  How do I get my kid to stop looking at his phone and actually talk to me?  What do I do if my kid melts down when I confiscate his video games?

We don’t have the benefit of a prior generation’s experience to guide us through parenting in the digital age.  It’s so much more complicated now than it was when we grew up and had to limit our phone calls lest we tie up the line for everyone else in the family!  Now, we parents slog through trying to figure out how to set rules that prioritize school and family, promote balance in our kids’ time and resilience in their emotional lives.  That’s hard to do when our kids have 24/7 access to phones and computers as well as constant exposure to their peers.

Many years ago, when I first started presenting on parenting teens, the biggest issue parents told me they faced was their child being surly and uncommunicative.  In the past few years, at every presentation that I’ve done, parents have lamented to me that their child gets sucked into video games or Facebook or texting – often to the detriment of their grades and almost always at the expense of real connection with their families.  Parents tell me they are unable to have conversations with their kids because of the preoccupation with what’s happening on their devices or that restriction of the devices can devolve into huge family battles.

So how, as a parent, do you dodge this bullet?  And if you’ve already been in the line of fire is it too late?  Well, answers abound on the internet for these questions.  Yes.  That is another irony.  But that doesn’t make it wrong.  There are tons of sites out there that help parents figure out what limits to set, how to use parental controls, how to create contracts about digital use with your kids.  There’s a plethora of information and many different apps to help parents keep track of their kids’ whereabouts and messages.  There’s also advice by the bucket load about video game use and abuse.  You want more advice?  Here is mine:  go mindfully through the waters of limiting your child’s digital use and then stick to the limits you set.

Here is an example of why:

I found that link without  trying too hard but my experience in my office and after my presentations is that parents are really struggling with an issue that looks suspiciously like an addiction to video games.  While video game addiction wasn’t included in the last diagnostic and statistical manual for therapists, many of my colleagues who work with teens corroborate my experience with this issue.

Video games aren’t the only pitfall:

If adults struggle with this, imagine how much harder it is for kids to be self-disciplined!  This makes our job of limiting and modeling limiting electronic use even more pressing.

Since the internet is so rife with suggestions, I’ll limit mine for you.  I hope they help

  1.  Set an example:  put your phone down for a while, walk away from your computer, engage in conversation.
  2. Keep your child engaged:  in the community, sports, the arts.
  3. Have (electronic-free) family dinner as often as possible.
  4. Have fun together, away from electronics.
  5. Maintain access to their online accounts until they are older and have earned your trust
  6. Set explicit and clear limits and priorities for your child’s time.  Stick to them!
  7. If your child starts World War III when you try to limit their use, please get them help.

Please contact me if you would like me to come present Parenting With Connection in the Age of Distraction for your group or school.  Supporting each other in our efforts to keep our kids engaged is essential and this presentation can serve to start the conversation.