Saturday, January 26, 2013

Mindful Parenting: Realistic Limits for Teens

Post written by Andrea Eldridge CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, an on-site computer and laptop repair service sacramento company.

Clearly, many teens and tweens spend a lot of time in front of their computers and texting on cell phones — and much of that time is spent social networking. But is it that all bad? Surveys show the answer to that question is… no.
Common Sense Media in a recent study found that in over 1000 teens, 13 to 17 had a pretty healthy perspective on social media.  “Teens are aware of the dangers of excessive usage and the online potential of cruelty. However, most young adults say social media and technology positively affects their social and mental well-being. Social media helps teens communicate easily with friends. Surveyed teens also believe social networks help them to be more outgoing, confident and less depressed.”
With that in mind what does a parent do if they are concerned their teen is “connected” too much, set realistic limits.
Set limits on Overall Screen time:  I think that it’s important to set family limits on overall screen and electronics time. I have found that many parents forget about the handheld gadgets when thinking of “screen time,” limiting TV or computer time but not cell or iPad use, for example. As parents it’s our job to help our kids set healthy habits for electronics use and that starts by establishing when it’s acceptable to use electronics, regardless of how many email accounts, social media profiles, video games or chat groups they participate in. I think that your teen can decide what they want to use their “connected time” for (within reason, of course) and the number of electronic activities they participate in shouldn’t increase overall daily time limitations.
If, for example, the house rule is no more than two hours a day spent with leisure electronics activities, your teen’s choice to spend those two hours playing Wii is theirs to make – it just means they won’t have time to update their Facebook status about it. Some parents have found success with a system to earn additional screen time through chore completion, reading or physical activities which would allow a kid that got carried away and used up their time to “buy” a few extra minutes.
Clear Choices, not just “House Rules:” It’s important that teenagers be given the reasons behind your choices, not just arbitrary rules. Reducing distractions to improve school work and allow family together time are great reasons to limit overall electronics use. 
Be Specific:  Make your family rules device-specific and control the device so you don’t have to spend as much energy policing behavior. “No texting when doing homework” will be easier to enforce if you make it a habit to collect cell phones and internet-connected devices when everyone walks in the door. Once homework is done, phones can be handed back under the parameters you are comfortable with. Everyone puts their electronics away and the TV turns off at meal times and for the last hour before bed, for example.
As for the in between homework done and dinner time, or on the weekend when there’s no homework to do? It’s ok to have different limits on different days, so long as you’re consistent. If you make usage rules on the fly you’re going to get push-back every time you try to get your kid to disconnect.
Set the Example:  Set family rules that even the adults abide by. If you say “no phones at dinner,” but then pick up yours to check a text it sends the wrong message. Use your own challenges to highlight why you are using tools like parental controls to help them stay focused. Did you lose an hour trolling Pinterest when you should have been working? Admit to your lapses and let them know that you’re working to reduce tech distractions in your day as well.
Control if Necessary:  Parental control software like Netnanny allows you to limit access to specific sites by setting time restrictions, both to limit when the sites can be accessed (say, only 5-6pm and 7-8pm) and setting a total limit on computer time for each child. It can be challenging to limit distractions when kids are using the computer for their homework. These types of tools work in conjunction with parental oversight to keep your kids on track and focused on their studies.
I also really like the Mikko Que as it allows parents to set personal limits on all devices (TV, gaming consoles, etc). When the time’s up, Mikko will physically disable the device so your kids can’t argue or cheat their way around your limits.

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