Aided by the convenience and constant access provided by mobile devices, especially smartphones, 92% of teens are going online daily — including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly,” according to a new study from Pew Research Center. More than half (56%) of teens — defined in this report as those ages 13 to 17 — go online several times a day, and 12% report once-a-day use. Just 6% of teens report going online weekly, and 2% go online less often. (Pew Research Center, April 2015, “Teen, Social Media and Technology Overview 2015”)
Most children have no rules or boundaries about how or how often they use their mobile devices. Kids, ages 8 to 18, are spending an average 44.5 hours per week in front of screens. Parents are increasingly concerned that screen time is robbing their children of real world experiences. Nearly 23% of youth report that they feel “addicted to video games” (31% of males, 13% of females.) These are the results of a new study of 1,178 U.S. children and teens (ages 8 to 18) conducted by Harris Interactive (2007) that documents a national prevalence rate of pathological video game use.
The following are some suggestions for helping create balance in your child's world:
- Use social media as a tool for promoting a charity or social cause. Teach your child that having a voice is a powerful thing. Use it to reach and inspire others for good. Have them promote a fundraiser or a community service meet-up on their social network.
- Create limits. Limit the amount of time your child can be on screens (any device that has a screen) on a school night, and perhaps even the weekend. Screens are a privilege that follow homework and other priorities. For example, 2-hours on a school night and 4-hours on the weekend. Doing chores may earn more screen time.
- Likes ≠ self-esteem. When a teen posts an image in their social network they get instant feedback in the form of "Likes" or positive comments. Research has shown us that once the teenage brain has linked a behavior to a reward, it continues to seek the reward again and again. The behavior, texting or checking for who has "Liked" their selfie, becomes hard wired to the pleasure center of their brain. Talk to your child about why they are posting images. Is it to share something they are proud of, or to garner validation from others?
- Be the person you want your child to be. In other words, practice what you preach. Don’t bring your phone to the family dinner table. Take technology breaks and engage with your child. Board games and other structured time with the family are priceless opportunities.
- Don’t be afraid to be the bad guy. Make a plan and stick to it. Boundaries are essential for your child’s safety. Don’t be surprised when you feel push back when implementing these suggestions. They are worth it and will help your child’s social skills and personal growth.