Summer break is on the horizon, and for parents and caregivers, this means adapting to more downtime for adolescents. In preparation, it’s a good idea to reflect on how this will affect the family, and to develop a plan to implement the necessary changes.
The World Health Organization (WHO) designates an adolescent as any person between ages 10 and 19. According to a recent Pew report, 95% of adolescents have cell phones, a 22% surge from 2014-15. Furthermore, the report states, “Smartphone ownership is nearly universal among teens of different genders, races and ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds.”
In her latest book, iGen: Why today’s super-connected kids are growing up less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy – and completely unprepared for adulthood (and what that means for the rest of us), psychology professor and author Jean Twenge includes in this generation of young people anyone born between 1995 and 2012. She notes that their phone is the last thing iGen’ers see at night and the first thing they check in the morning. They spend close to two hours a day texting on their cell phones, two hours on the internet, and another two hours gaming and video chatting.
By now, most of us are aware of the the negative impact of so much screen time, especially on adolescents. Suicide rates among this age group are higher than homicide rates, and its depression and anxiety symptoms are skyrocketing. Thanks to constant technological advances, life is changing so rapidly that it’s challenging for parents to keep up with it all. So what can parents do to reduce, limit, and monitor their adolescent’s screen time?
To begin with, know that the goal is not to get rid of cell phones, which would be unrealistic and highly contentious, but rather to delay and decrease usage. Below are some practical suggestions to try. Be prepared to meet with resistance, and know that this is okay. Learning to tolerate and self soothe are important life skills for adolescents to learn.
Utilize Google digital health tools. How much screen time is your adolescent using? Get the facts. Monitor, and set limits.
Keep phones out of the bedroom. Sleep issues are a major issue for adolescents. Access to a phone at night presents a temptation most cannot resist.
Meals without screens. Face-to-face talking, eye contact, and laughter promote healthy social interaction.
Lead by example. Do you check your phone at red lights, waiting in line at a restaurant, standing on the sidelines at school sporting events, or sitting on the couch while having a conversation with your child? Model healthy appropriate screen use. Self-reflect and monitor your own personal use. Make it a family challenge.
Get curious about your adolescent. Pose questions. Ask them to show you what they are doing or tell you about a game they’re playing.
Come up with your own examples; get creative. What else could you be doing to help reduce your adolescent’s screen time so that he or she may enjoy the real world a little more?
Anderson, M., & Jiang, J. (2018). Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018. Pew Research Center.
Rodrigues, J. (2018). Smartphones: fundamentally reshaping today’s teenagers. Church, Communication and Culture, 3(1), 75-79. doi: 10.1080/23753234.2018.1429223
Twenge, J. (2017), iGen: Why today’s super-connected kids are growing up less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy – and completely unprepared for adulthood (and what that means for the rest of us). New York: Atria Books.