Our teenagers are digital natives, and we are probably digital immigrants! Integration of digital media, smartphones and social media into our teen’s lives comes with a whole new set of challenges, from balancing screen time to ensuring their mental well-being.
In this article, I will delve into the world of teenagers, smartphones, and the joys and struggles of parenting “screenagers.” I hope that reading this article will make us, as parents, feel empowered with new strategies to connect with our children and restore our family’s relationships.
I am a mother of two, pediatric endocrinologist and a digital wellness coach in Nashville/Franklin. A few years ago, I started noticing the side effects of screens in my patients. These side-effects have been manifesting as obesity, prediabetes, type 2 diabetes mellitus, anxiety, sleep issues, behavior problems, etc. I was compelled to take a deeper look! The strategies and the concerns that I share below are guided by my research that followed.
It’s natural for parents to want their children to develop self-control and manage their screen time responsibly. There are a few critical mistakes to avoid when parenting in the social media age.
Expecting children to exercise the force of their will power to get off devices
Recently, US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy said in an interview regarding social media, “Some of the world’s greatest product developers have designed these platforms, to make sure people are maximizing the amount of time they spend on these platforms. If you tell a child to use the force of their willpower to control how much time they are spending on these platforms, you are pitting a child against the world’s greatest product developers. That is just not a fair fight.”
Prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain that regulates important executive functioning skills such as impulse control, emotional regulation, sustained attention, and organization. This part of the brain continues to mature into the 20s, leaving our teens ill-equipped with the skills necessary to exercise self-control. The powerful allure and addictive nature of the content that teens consume makes it even more challenging.
Instead of solely relying on willpower, it’s important to create a supportive environment with clear boundaries and alternative activities that engage and fulfill our children.
We have also learned from research that repetitive exposure to addictive stimuli such as notifications might negatively impact the development of the prefrontal cortex. It might be ideal to turn off many non-essential notifications on our families’ devices. Not sure where to start? Visit www.tweakyourtech.com for quick guidance.
Giving in to peer pressure and hoping that the outcome would be different
Giving in to peer pressure and allowing unlimited access to devices in the hope that it will lead to better social integration or acceptance can inadvertently expose children to harmful content or addictive behaviors.
A common question is, what is the right age to introduce smartphone in a child’s life? While there are several perspectives to this, it is important to evaluate our own child’s personality and determine the best age to give them a smartphone with or without restrictions. Prior to the introduction of a smartphone, if a child struggles with low self-esteem, low self-control, procrastination, impulsivity, sensitivity to boredom or loneliness, then access to a smartphone might worsen these.
Research claims that age at first smartphone less than 13 years could be associated with a higher risk of poor mental health.
It’s crucial for us to prioritize our child’s well-being over fleeting social validation and fostering a community of like-minded families.
Expecting children to not role model their parents/adults around them
What happens to the brain of a child when they see us engaged with our devices? They feel less important and disrespected. Putting our own devices away for device-free family time everyday nurtures hormones called serotonin and oxytocin, mood-lifting hormones!
Serotonin and oxytocin come from real-life human connectedness. We must strive to create more opportunities to nurture our family’s serotonin and oxytocin!
Expecting children not to emulate the screen habits of adults around them overlooks the powerful influence of parental behavior on shaping their digital habits. By modeling healthy screen habits and demonstrating a balanced approach to technology use, parents can positively influence their child’s relationship with screens.
Change begins with insight. I encourage you to take a brief assessment about your relationship with devices: reconnect.expert/self-assessment.
Expecting children to understand the superfluous nature of social media
What we see on social media is often not a representation of real life. It is fantasy! Our children come to believe in the fantasy of social media and do everything possible to make it a reality for themselves. They make all attempts to keep up and fit in. In the process, they might feel even more lonely.
The persuasive techniques and algorithms employed by online platforms to keep users engaged cannot be overlooked. Instead of assuming that children will naturally discern what is meaningful from what is superficial, parents can engage in conversations about media literacy and critical thinking, helping children develop the skills to navigate and evaluate online content responsibly.
Expecting the kids to know what to do when they are off screens
Some teens might not have a framework for life without screens! They are accustomed to the constant stimulation and entertainment. Expecting children to intuitively know what to do when they are off screens is unfair. They need our guidance in cultivating alternative interests and fun offline activities. Parents can empower their children to embrace screen-free moments and discover the joy of unplugged experiences.
Let’s work together to create a generation of empowered, resilient, and emotionally intelligent screenagers!
At Phreedom Foundation, we have created a robust digital wellness program, ReConnect, that empowers parents, professionals, and students with a deep understanding of smartphone dependency and practical tools to prevent this behavior, improve mindfulness and elevate relationships.