Ninety-eight percent of families with children now have smartphones. Tweens use their devices for about six hours, and teens use their devices for nine hours a day, according to the nonprofit Common Sense Media. (2018 Social Media, Social Life survey) So, with those statistics in mind, the investigative brain of a mum of teens and a cup of Earl Grey tea in hand, MumAbroad has seriously challenged me this month with the blog topic of parents supporting t(w)eens with navigating social media!
A deep sigh.
If like me you see both the benefits and distractions of social media, it is very easy to immediately feel guilty for not setting a sparkling teeth example of how to ride elegantly through this particular parenting minefield.
As parents, we sometimes don’t realize the pressures that social media and technology place on our children and how it is helping to dictate their behaviour because of the social pressure to “conform”. For most of us we haven’t grown up in a generation with as much technology and social media exposure as our children and so it’s only natural to not only not understand what our kids are going through but also not know how to navigate it either.
Read that as, take the pressure off yourself to be a perfect example, my friends!
I think the first thing to do to help our t(w)eens cope better with this recent parenting monster is to open and keep open the conversation. Here is what one of my 11 year old coaching clients shared with me:
“I struggle internally for a few reasons as I now have my own cell phone, just like my friends, and I’m spending more time on technology. When I get off my phone I feel flustered, unhappy or upset. I should be happy, right?“
She was able to explain about the different scenarios that were creating that; text messages with peers that went wrong, most likely due to mis-reading tone, her time spent on Instagram; she was following only her inner circle and big celebrities like Ariana Grande and the Kardashians, comparing herself, judging herself and criticizing herself and “wasting time”. She said she was feeling like she wasn’t good enough and started focusing more on what she wore and makeup. She also admitted to feeling the pressure of having to choose between her love of Maths and Science and her dreams of having a boyfriend and being popular at school. She was torn because in her eyes she couldn’t love both!
That was a surprise to me as an adult and may be to you too. But I can definitely identify with the yucky flustered, inadequate and sometimes depressed feelings after being sucked into the rabbit hole of social media, videos, online group challenges, podcasts and comparison.
No I haven’t made a 6 figure income in 6 weeks, damn, I really am useless!
So, as parents of t(w)eens, if we ourselves struggle, how can we help them?
I am not an expert, far, far from it but here are my humble, research based suggestions.
I advocate media mentoring as opposed to media monitoring.
As opposed to monitoring our kids usage — with charts, schedules and parental controls like time use apps etc — mentoring means understanding the media that kids use.
“Mentoring is knowing the difference between Minecraft and Fortnite. Mentoring is looking at the emotional effects of playing in a competitive mode versus a collaborative mode,” according to Devorah Heitner (Ph.D. in media, technology and society from Northwestern University) and author of the book Screenwise.
“It’s understanding that … what your kids are doing is part of their identity, whether it’s through the kinds of people they follow on Tumblr or YouTube or the kinds of things they share.”
So let’s get started and above all, work together as a family to make positive changes.
*** After chatting with your darlings why not ask them to help you reflect on how you use your phone for a day or two? Just pay attention to your relationship with your phone to gain clarity. You could do this as a family for even more impact and commitment.
Consider how your phone makes you feel. What emotions do you have before using your phone? How about after using your phone? Who are you with? What are you doing? Where are you? When you pick up your phone, what do you do? Are there particular apps you use most often? How long do you get sucked in for? Is it hard to return your attention back to other things? Can you hold a conversation at the same time or do you get flustered and make mistakes? What might your answers tell you about why you are using your phone? Ask yourself, is this really the way you want to use this time? Is it really making you happy? Or are you like lots of adults and t(w)eens, miserably addicted to a metal and glass rectangular object that is making you miserable?
*** Try riding out your cravings. When we’re addicted to something (like our phones), quitting cold turkey can result in some pretty massive cravings. One way to overcome these cravings is to better understand them. Ask yourself, why are you wanting to reach for your phone right now?
What emotions are you hoping to experience? Or, are you trying to avoid an emotional feeling? Try just sitting with the icky feelings and try to identify what is causing you to reach for your phone.
*** Get your devices out of sight and out of mind more often. Establish a family agreement that no one has phones or other devices at mealtimes at home or when eating out.
*** Set your lock screen as a reminder to stop mindlessly checking your phone. Perhaps after your family reflection challenge you’ve discovered that using your phone to make you happy is not working – in fact, it’s making you miserable. So, now you’ve decided you want to take a break from your phone (or maybe just use your phone less) A lock screen reminder will help you and your t(w)eens stay strong and ride the desire to unlock and scroll, out.
*** Consider deleting social media apps from your phone as social media – and other browsing apps – can be the biggest time sucks on your phone. When they aren’t there, we can be less tempted to reach for our phones. So consider deleting social media apps from your phone. If this seems too extreme, try moving your apps somewhere other than your front page or changing your phone’s display to grayscale. At least this way, those bright app buttons wont draw you in as easily.
*** Take phones away at night and charge them outside bedrooms, preferably away from any sleeping humans or animals. I often hear objections from t(w)eens and adults alike that their alarm clock is their phone. Then guess what? Buy an old-fashioned alarm clock for everyone and get used to it.
*** Make no-phone zones and no-phone times. Some people don’t allow phones in their houses……yes, really? Others don’t allow phones in the bathroom. Do you have a space that you would like to be phone free? Then make it so. Or alternatively, have set “no phone” times for everyone and plan other activities during this time. Find times that work well for your particular family dynamics.
*** Check in with yourself and your darlings often and schedule a reminder to check in with yourself each month. Ask yourself, how is your relationship with your phone going? Are you staying present while using your phone? Are you only using apps that make you feel good? Are you only spending a small amount of time on your phone or are you getting sucked in and feeling miserable afterwards? Do you need to make any more changes? If so, then make them.
Little changes, big differences.
Work together as a family to make those changes.
Mentor don’t monitor.
Start with your own device usage and set the example and family habits.
That’s all folks!
Do you have tools and techniques that work for your family? I would love to hear them so please do share. The more we work together, the more prepared we are and more able to understand and work out the kinks of the parenting in the age of tech and social media age our kids are growing up in.
As always, I hope my investigative mum offerings speak to you.
Happy Summer to you all.