As an adolescent counselor, most of my time is spent talking and connecting with text-happy, Instagram-snapping, YouTube-watching, Halo-shooting, iPhone-obsessed middle- and high-schoolers and their parents.
Recently, I received a call from a parent who said, “My 13-year-old is absolutely addicted to technology. If she’s not texting, then she’s emailing. If she’s not emailing, she’s on YouTube or Instagram. If she’s not doing that, then she is playing with a new app. I really don’t know what to do. Help!”
I get it. I really do. I have three tween-to-teens of my own. So, when it came to researching an article on digital addiction and adolescents, I didn’t have to look much further than my own house. Literally.
With one glance around the room, I saw four smartphones, three laptops, two iPads, an AppleTV, and a handful more devices. Yikes. That’s a lot. It really shed light on just how much we have let technology into our lives.
Later, that day I realized just how much we had begun to rely – actually, depend – on technology. During a family card game, my son couldn’t sit still when he heard his phone vibrate, my daughter needed to show us the funniest thing on Instagram and, truth be told, I was taking a picture with my phone. Could we be addicted?
Merriam-Webster defines addiction as “a compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance.” Is technology a habit-forming substance? Like alcohol, drugs or other substances, technology rewards us with the “pleasure chemical” dopamine. Kids can get a natural high when logging onto Instagram, playing the latest video game or instant-messaging with their friends. There can be an almost compulsive need to get the digital boost. This need is not going unnoticed by professionals. Just last year, the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5) took note of the impact and listed digital addiction as a “condition for further study.”
Signs of technology overuse in tween-to-teens have begun to include dropping grades, increased isolation and aggression as well as the possible onset of stress, sleeping disorders and depression. Now, I’m not advocating a ban on all technology. It has it benefits too: kids can check-in with parents more easily; electronic libraries, research has become simplified, and more. However, it’s flipside of the benefits that raise the red flags. So, what can you do to begin to minimize the impact?
Choose People over Devices
Human interaction trumps technology. Encourage your kids to use digital devices on their own time, rather than when they are with others. Request that your tween-to-teen to shelve the smartphone or laptop during family time. And, make sure YOU do the same!
Talk to your child about when, where and how to use technology as well as when to unplug. If needed, employ beneficial parent knowledge apps and computer controls that help you monitor passwords, time online, websites visited – even hurtful messages or potential predator situations. Additionally, schedule a starting and stopping point for on your child’s online connection. An evening check-in of devices can also help discourage late night tech sessions.
Know Where They Go
Talk to your kids about what sites they are visiting, games they are playing or videos they are watching. Is their a “real-life” equivalent that could provide the same experience? For example, rather than chatting with friends online, could they invite them over for a pizza party?
Schedule a Tech-Free Day
Once a week or month, increase your teen’s connection by disconnecting. Schedule a family sabbatical from the digital world. Go for a hike. Play a board game. Do something – anything – that allows you to unplug and recharge.
Listen to the Little Inner Voice
If you think your tween-to-teen might be spending too much time in front of the screen, it’s highly likely he or she is. Start the conversation about what your child is receiving from spending so much time online. Is it because chat sites are providing acceptance or anonymity? Is technology offering an escape from daily pressures and concerns? Perhaps they are just bored and technology is the default activity. That little voice knows when it’s all become too much. Listen to it. Trust it. Talk about it.
Practice what your Preach
Lastly, be the epitome of “do as I say and as I do.” Telling your tween-to-teen to limit their digital use will not have the effect you desire unless you also show them how to limit by doing it yourself.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about tween-to-teens and technology. How do you handle the too-much-tech dilemma? Share your comments below.
I’ve been doing my annual “Fall Clean.” It’s just like spring cleaning except you do it in the Fall. Anyway, as I was cleaning out my cyber clutter and I happened across an email I received back in the ’90s. (Don’t judge. Paper piles have been my weakness.)
17 QUESTIONS….that could change your life. Take a moment to reflect on your life. Sometimes writing things down really puts them into perspective. I love them for two reasons: (1) great journaling prompts for you, and (2) there are a handful of great conversation starters for you and your tween-to-teen. Enjoy!
- If I had to wear my philosophy of life as a motto on a t-shirt, what would it be?
- When was the last time I felt bliss? Not just pleasure, bliss. Was it provoked by a someone, a something, a somewhere? That soaring feeling still lives inside of me. What can I do to wake it up?
- Is there anything unfinished in my life that I am willing to walk away from? If I haven’t thus far learned French, gotten a dog, started my own business, maybe it’s time to make room for new dreams. Hit Delete. See what happens.
- Am I inhibited by a fear of failing? Just for a moment, pretend that failure is a triumph, not a shame. Now, what would I reach for, what would I risk?
- If I were able to take my 8 or 10 year old self to lunch, what would he/she think of me? Do I still have his/her passions…. opinions…..willfulness? Do I still know what he/she knows?
- Do I believe in God? What exactly is my position on the Big Questions? Do I have spiritual beliefs that are truly my own, not someone else’s?
- Have I made a home for myself? Or am I still waiting for my Real Life to begin? I already know I don’t have to be married or mortgaged or otherwise permanently committed to nest. So what’s keeping me from saying this is my Real Life right now?
- If I could take a six month sabbatical from my current job, what would I do? Travel around the world? Perform good deeds? Put my bottom in a chair and my nose in a book? If I don’t know the answer, how can I begin to figure out what my dream is?
- What do I like most about my appearance? What are my secret vanities? Can I be a show-off for a change? Can I strut my stuff on a regular basis?
- How do I envision myself at age 60? What would I like to look like? What would I like to know that I don’t know now? What should I be doing now that I will happily look back on then?
- Am I living my life for an audience? Have I internalized a watchful someone: Mom, Best Friend, Ex-Boyfriend? Is my audience worthy of judging me? How can I banish them forever and live for Myself?
- What can I do about the people I have disappointed and been disappointed by? If I could heal a damaged relationship, would I? Is there anyone whose lost friendship and regard I mourn? Or is it time to move on?
- How much money will I need for retirement? Does simply asking the question make me hyperventilate? Can I stand to do the math? Am I brave enough to begin?
- Am I as healthy as I want to be? If I imagine myself, circa 2000, how would I like to feel, physically and mentally? What steps should I be taking now to make sure that ideal becomes reality?
- Am I capable of being alone? Does the prospect of an entire weekend by myself stimulate or panic me? If I’m not in psychic shape for the occasional bout of solitude, I need to be. Start thinking about what is scary about aloneness and how to overcome it.
- Do I see success as a lavish banquet or a scarce commodity? When a good friend triumphs, do I feel depleted——-as if there’s a limited amount of goodies to go around? Is it possible to transform envy into a this-means-I-can-do-it-too signal?
- How do I want to love and be loved? What is my definition of a wonderful relationship / partnership? How close have I come to finding that? What is left for me to know or do in order to attract the love I want?
You are not awesome. You really aren’t. Neither are your kids.
“Um, what?!” Did you just tell me that I suck and my kids do too?”
No. I said that you aren’t awesome and neither are your kids. For the record, I’m not awesome either. And, my kids? Totally nowhere near awesome.
Before you call for a public lynching, hear me out.
Last week, I was hanging out with my youth advisory board and, in a 45 minute period, they said “awesome” 35 times. I’ll admit that it was a great conversation touching on some tough topics, but awe-inspiring? Not so much. My curiosity was piqued about how many times a day we use the word awesome.
“This TV show is awesome.”
“Your hair looks awesome.”
“This t-shirt is so totally awesome.”
“That is the most awesome Smosh yet.”
“Awesomeness! We are headed to pool!”
“Level 17. Awe-some.”
“We’re out of milk, mom. Awesome.”
“OMG. Listen to this band – awesome!”
“You look so awesome. What about me? Awesome, right?
“Awesome. I’ll get your drinks right out to you.”
“Someone ate the last of the chips. Oh, that’s just awesome. Thanks.”
“That girl/guy/dog/cat/parent/boss is awesome.”
“Oreo ice cream? Yay. Awesome awesome with awesome sauce!”
“Awesome dinner, mom.”
I could go on, but our heads will explode from the sheer, well, awesomeness of it all.
Awesome has become the new normal. There is nothing impressive, daunting or mind-boggling about it. Awesome is just the usual, status quo, or typical. It is average. And, you, my friend, are anything but average. So, let me repeat: you are not awesome. And, neither are your kids.
Like you, your kids are witty, wise, silly, beautiful, intelligent, silly, quirky, imperfect, stylish, dorky, artistic, are crazy. They are adventurous, inappropriate, impulsive, rebellious, curious and hysterical. They are sad, beautiful, ballsy, weird, and wonderful. They might be obnoxious, annoying, charming and confusing. In fact, they could be all these things in the span of 2 minutes. And, all of it very, very not awesome.
So, how do continue to keep them un-awesome?
Listen to what they say.
First, zip your lip. If you are like most parents, you crave communication – actual back and forth conversation. However, most tween-to-teens don’t talk to parents. Why? Because parents don’t listen. Parents (and I’m one of them) have far too much wisdom to impart. Each one of our warnings, criticisms, corrections, worries – each whatever sends a message that our children receive as “Who I am is not enough.” Yes, there are definitely times to impart the lessons, but it’s not each time, every time. Rather, let your tween-to-teen do some freestyle talking. Put any judgements out to pasture for a bit and just listen. It’s like a rocket boost to your kiddo’s self-esteem.
Encourage their interests.
In the adolescent mind, having interests that separate them from part of the crowd is not seen a a plus; it’s far better to be part of the pack. Their interests, though, are what help them cultivate all that is amazing and unique about them. It’s up to you to encourage them to explore. Pay attention to the cues they offer each day: asking you to buy certain things, writing, singing, the TV shows they watch and more. It may take some time, but your tween-to-teens interests will help them discover exactly what is that makes them tick.
Let them to fail.
Parenting tweens and teens with the goal of preventing them from facing any hardship keeps them from discovering who they are and what they are capable of. It doesn’t keep them safe; it keeps them numb. And, being numb doesn’t allow your child to connect with what makes him who he is. Let him make some mistakes. It allows them to see what is (and isn’t possible), and that is far from being typical.
Quit the comparisons.
When you compare your child – especially tween-to-teens – to their siblings or friends, it sends the message that they have nothing of value. Comparison is the breeding ground for envy, low self-esteem, jealousy, reduced confidence, mistrust and depression. So, stop it. If a comparison really needs to be made, do it against oneself.
Let them make – or at least have a say – in decisions.
Your child’s “job” is to separate from you and become resilient, happy and whole. To do that, he or she must make some decisions. I have worked with 17-year-olds whose parents still pick out their clothes. Please don’t do that. Let your child have a voice and a choice. They will live up to the level of trust you have in who they are and the decisions they make. If you are restricting – or worse, controlling – their decisions, they will live up to that expectation and it will limit their faith in who they are.
Love them for who they are.
Love them for the wonderful and the weird. Love them for the silliness and the stinkiness. Love them for the awkwardness and the rebellion. Love them when they are happy, and love them more when they are angry. Just love them for who they are right now because they, like you, are incredibly un-awesome.
* * *
I’m not really sure who I am writing this to so I’ll just write it whoever…
Today was the first day of school. Everyone says that 8th grade will be awesome. We are now the oldest in middle school. I thought it was just really awkward. Half the boys have mustaches and the other half look like they are 4th graders. Same goes for the girls, except the mustache thing. Well, maybe there is one or two with those. LOL.I had to get up so early. It was still dark outside. Who’s idea was it to tart school so early? Mom said that I just have to go to bed earlier. Its not like I’m a baby. Whatever.I got to school and saw a few of my bros. Not much has changed. Tiny is still tiny. He’s in most of my classes which is cool. 1st period is geometry. I hate math. Actually, I’m good at math but I hated math last year. My teacher was a bitch. 2nd period is study hall. 3rd is PE. 4th is Spanish. 5th is history. 6th is science. 7th is English. The rest of my classes are okay. Nothing exciting. The science teacher is new. He seems cool. My mom keeps telling me that I need to find a class I like so I can study all about it. There isn’t anything at school I really like. I just want to get done. Sometimes I think about what I want to do someday. Maybe work for a big company but that seems boring. I could totally see me doing something outside. Or maybe making video games. I don’t know.
Well, I don’t really have much to say except I really hope this year is good. I also hope that I have fun and maybe find something I want to do.
I recently asked some fifth and sixth graders about the do’s and don’t for parenting tweens. Here’s 12-year-old John’s thoughts:
- * ask “how was your day today?”
- * embarrass us.
- * try to be cool.
- * forces us to do things.
- * not let us go to friends’ houses.
- * give favor to younger siblings.
- * make us hang out with your friends. We have no idea what the heck you are talking about!
- * push us to hard.
- * make us watch your TV shows.
- * limit video games to small level.
- * be yourself.
- * make the day a little wacky.
- * trust us with friends.
- * let us stay home by ourselves.
- * give us a break very once in a while.
- * let us play vide games we want and not limit them.
- * let us and our siblings be equal.
- * give us our distance.
- * don’t embarrass us. (yes, I know this is a don’t but it’s important that you do it.)
- * trust us to be more mature with some subjects.