Darren Cox is the owner of Anchor Bay Counseling in Spooner, WI. He is a licensed mental health professional practicing in Wisconsin since 2004. He is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary holding a Masters Degree in Biblical Counseling and he resides in Shell Lake with his wife of 20 years and their three children.
Teens and Electronics
Although I do not yet consider myself old, I must admit I am out of touch when it comes to computers, internet and social media. I vividly remember in my 8th grade year the school getting computers in for the first time.
Boy have times changed.
But what has not changed is the need built into all of our kids for limits and guidelines on how they spend their time and what they view. But the sad reality is that most parents my self-included are ignorant when it comes to what their kids are doing online.
The average teen according to Pew Research spends 9 hours per day viewing electronics. This includes texting, YouTube, internet searches, and various social media platforms. I have jokingly said that this generation of young adults and their habits in our electronic age are creating job security for those in the mental health field. How, you may ask, and what is the big deal? Let me outline a few concerns from a developmental/behavioral standpoint.
- It is creating a generation in need of instant gratification. In our electronic age, I can get instant access to news, sports and a wealth of information simply with the click of a mouse. I can get the cliff notes version of any book simply by researching the book. As a matter of fact, less than a third of teens interviewed in 2016 had read one page of a book in the last year. How can a static classroom environment compete with the ever changing ever stimulating media that is our games and internet? Quite simply it cannot.
- It is creating a generation of kids who do not know how to dialogue 1x1 or problem solve. It used to be if I wanted to ask someone out on a date, I had to get the courage to approach her, talk to her and set myself up for face to face conversation if I ever wanted any hope of getting a date. Not anymore. Simply send a text with limited risk and if turned down, move on to the next. According to Pew Research 31% of teens have broken up with a partner using a text to deliver the bad news.
- It is creating a generation with intimacy issues. Parents let me be blunt. If you are not filtering or monitoring what your kids are viewing online, they are most likely exposed to illicit content. 90% of children ages 8-16 have viewed pornography with the average age of first exposure being 11. Kids are naturally curious and when we don’t filter what they have access to via the internet, that curiosity can have long lasting consequences. Pornography teaches sexual gratification without investment. It is about me getting what I want without the person creating the arousal requiring anything from me except the click of a mouse. Sex without an emotional connection dulls human intimacy.
There are many more potential consequences that I could go into here but my main goal is to encourage you as parents to set limits with your kids. Limits are expression of love and your kids need character development more than comfort development. Here are some practical suggestions on how to set electronic limits with your kids.
- Delay getting a smart phone for your child until they have proven the ability to handle the responsibility. This means your 5-year-old should not have a smart phone. 12-14 is a more realistic age and this is proven by how they respond to your parental imposed limits. If they fight, argue, lie and manipulate, quite simply they are not ready for the responsibility. If on the other hand, they follow your electronic rules, they are demonstrating that they can handle the privilege.
- Set time limits on how much your teens use electronics. I remember a parent telling me they consequence their kid by only allowing 22 hours of Fortnight over the weekend. I about choked as 22 hours is not a consequence. Make sure homework and household chores are done first before access is granted to electronics. Using a schedule can help and I have included an example:
3:30p - 4:30p - Free time (needed to unwind after 8 hours at school)
4:30p - 6:00p - Homework and chores completed
6:00p - 6:30p - Family meal time
6:30p - 8:00p - Electronics (again based upon if the privilege has been earned through proper behaviors.)
9:00p - All electronics placed in a common charging station and not taken to bed with the teen.
Obviously, this schedule can be adjusted based upon age and level of responsibility but the goal is to set limits and allow the teens to earn electronic time only after other obligations are met.
- Place filters on all smart phones. Not filtering what your child has access to via their smart phones is playing Russian Roulette with your kids and quite simply not a risk worth taking.
How to set parental controls for iPhone
How to set parental controls for Android
- Place the home computer in an open area of the house where screening habits are easily seen by other members of the family. Many internet filter applications are available including Net Nanny and Covenant Eyes to name a few.
The bottom line is for parents to get engaged in what their teens are doing with their smart phones, computers and other devices. Ask questions, be nosey and love your kids enough to set limits for them. They will thank you for it later.