In a few weeks my oldest kiddo will be finishing middle school, and my daughter will be finishing the sixth grade. I am grateful that the transition from childhood to adolescence has been pretty smooth for the kids and for our family so far. Yet, it has required an adjustment in parenting and in our family dynamics. Gone are the days of the three kids running around completely immersed in imaginary play. Sometimes, when my daughter is feeling playful, she will play with her little brother. When they are playing, I will stop whatever I am doing to listen to their sing-song way of their play because I know these days are numbered.
My middle schooler and soon-to-be high schooler enjoy spending time alone in their rooms. Sometimes they face-time with friends, play video games, or read. I am not worried about the time they spend alone, I remember how much I enjoyed and needed my time alone. Even though I miss them, I know they need this time away from us. I also know they need to stay and feel connected to the family. So, I’ve learned little by little each year that instead of yelling at them about screen time, it is my responsibility to invite them to engage and connect with us.
Over Easter break we took a family camping trip to Chiricahua National Monument. There was no wi-fi or mobile phone service at the campground and it was great! While there were the usual complaints about missing the comforts of home, we ended up having a relaxing time together. I heard all three kids playing games and laughing together in the tent. Without the everyday distractions and to-do’s, the camping trip allowed us to connect as a family. My daughter and I left the boys behind one morning and went on a hike/run through the rock formations. We really enjoyed this time together, just the two of us. Later in the evening we took a drive and did a short hike to Sugarloaf Mountain to see the sunset. The boys really enjoyed this outing while my husband and daughter spent time together.
Lately, there’s been much buzz over the amount of time kids and teens spend on screens and social media. The movie, Screenagers, has recently gotten attention in my local community. The World Health Organization, recently set out new guidelines for “sendentary screen time” for children. It feels like there is a lot of blame on the children or teens for the increased use of technology but the fault is ours; the adults, parents, and guardians. It is hard to really notice and admit how much time the kids actually spend on their screens and probably even harder to be honest about how much time we spend looking at our phones.
It is not easy parenting during these years but it is important to stay connected with our kids during the teen years. Even though they are looking and sounding like adults more each day, they still need their family. When they encounter or hear something online or in school, I want the kids to feel comfortable coming to me with questions. It is difficult to have conversations with them about certain topics, but it is necessary to put my discomfort aside, so I can listen and answer their questions. The following simple steps have helped us limit screen time. The rules and limits for your family will likely be different because they are based on your own values and beliefs about technology and your family culture.
Family Phone and Social Media Rules
- Everyone plugs their phone into the charging station in the evening before going to bed.
- No phone use during sit down family meals.
- No personal social media accounts for kids or teens. (The kids made this rule on their own. They like their privacy. I have to ask them if it is ok to share a picture or post about them.)
- Homework & to-do’s must be completed before gaming/screen time.
There’s lost of information about teens and technology along with suggested rules. Rather than focusing on time limits and such, what has worked the best for my family is to offer alternatives to screen time. It is as easy as inviting them to a frisbee catch in the backyard. Here are some more ideas for games and family time.
This article from Psychology Today describes some of the effects of social media on developing brains and also offers tips for helping your teen “slow down” and have more face-to-face contact with you and their friends.
Families Managing Social Media is another useful site for information and tips about screen time.