Photo by: K. Kendall

Controlling the Techie Tween

Photo by: K. Kendall

The rise of gadgetry in today’s society has many parents wondering "What is too much screen time?" Parents find that, once their kids are ‘plugged-in’, they are very much ‘tuned-out’ to parents, family needs and chores. While texting or wearing earphones, kids are typically unresponsive to the rest of the world. Not only does this make communication frustrating, but it also leaves parents to worry about how their child is actually using their screen time.

In an attempt to find balance, parents often try to establish rules regarding usage. Some families keep computers out of children’s bedrooms. Some parents allow certain gadgetry, but not others. Ultimately, though, parents find that the introduction of these gadgets only serves as yet another thing to have to control.

Whether we like it or not, in today’s society, kids needs to use technology to some degree to feel that they fit in. While it may be hard for us to understand (having managed just fine without these gadgets), IM-ing, texting and cell-phone use have all become part of basic social interaction. As a child enters the teen years, their focus is on their social standing. They are beginning to see themselves as having their own identity and their social group is closely tied to that identity. Fitting in and communicating regularly with their circle are developmentally-appropriate needs.

At the same time, Mom and Dad have needs of their own. They need to feel that their son is still an active participant in the family. They need to feel confident that their daughter is not engaging herself in dangerous online activity. They need their kids to appreciate the great financial expense all these gadgets cost the family.

The first key for a healthy tween to gadget relationship begins with communication. While kids may not be able to articulate their need for gadgetry, parents need to understand and respect it. Trying to control the usage or censor the content, only serves to undermine the parent-child relationship. In order for children to be trustworthy, they need to know that they can be trusted. This can be a hard one for parents to swallow. If you feel you can’t trust your child right now, consider reflecting on that for a while. Why can’t you trust them? What are you worried that they will do? Is your fear based on their behavior or your own? The need to monitor your child’s screen time stems out of fear and communicates to them that you do not trust their judgment or abilities. Rather than wasting time trying to control their gadgets, your time would be better-spent on communicating with them to develop a mutual trust.

The second key is that they need to understand your needs. Once you identify your own needs, you will be able to communicate them to your child. Perhaps you need to feel connected to your child in a way that 6 hours of screen time does not permit. Perhaps you need them to communicate to you why the screen time is so important for them. The more open and honest you are with your children, the more open and honest they will be with you. The more respect you show them, the more respect they will show you.

The bottom line is that trying to control the techie tween is futile and unproductive. A more effective way of protecting your child from the effects of technology is to develop mutual respect, trust and understanding.

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1 Comment

While I agree that IM-ing, texting and cell phone usage have become accepted and expected forms of communication for teens and tweens, I must respectfully disagree that it is "futile and unproductive" to control the degree of usage. Perhaps controlling isn't the right word. But as parents, we could and should set boundaries for their use. During specific family times, and at bed times, we insist on cell phones being turned off. Our kids are 15 and 17, and they understand and respect this rule.

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