It’s a dreaded topic: smartphones, device-usage, screen time, social media, gaming, computers…how do we set rules for an area that is constantly evolving and difficult to understand? In the last month, I have learned about personal stories of online bullying, with one resulting in the suicide of a 13-year-old child. These stories are not unique – we must all look at our families in the “selfie” and evaluate our own usage and that of our children with screens. As technology is evolving faster than we can keep up with our children, so too must our conversations rapidly evolve with our children around smartphones, computer usage and connectivity.
Screenagers – The Movie
Last year in 2015, Dr Delaney Ruston took it upon herself to tackle the growing population of teenagers navigating the world of connectivity and screen time whilst balancing school, homework, sports, friends and family in a film called Screenagers.
Children argue the need for a smartphone to readily connect with friends and the world, a way to navigate socially awkward situations and finally as a tool to avoid adversity.
In the United States, 68% of high school teenagers have a smartphone. This statistic is even higher in Hong Kong, where 92% of adult individuals site using their phones everyday. For teens, 82-92% of 15-19-year-olds report using a smartphone every day (Go Globe). In Screenagers, it depicts the majority of girls using smartphones for social media, whereas boys spend upwards of 11 hours per week gaming. The girls in the film aptly point out that using social media to get the most “likes” is akin to a competition with no finish line, but at the same time it is critical to social interactions. Gamers (both male and female) saw a decrease in empathy and increased aggression after playing violent video games.
5 Downsides to Smartphones, Gaming and Social Media
- Fast moving, rapid stimulation of the brain decreases nerve function in mice. Furthermore, this decrease has a lasting effect.
- Decrease in school performance due to multitasking and number of hours per day on technological device
- Decrease in empathy for violent video game users
- Increase in aggression for violent video game users
- Less face-to-face interaction and communication
Rules and Conversations for Families
- Empathise with your child’s need to connect with friends and family through social media and gaming. Help your children understand the need to “Contemplate Before the Click” in any communication including e-mail, social media and other online platforms. Help your children know what do to if things go poorly. Having an action plan will leave your child feeling empowered and in control.
- Set family guidelines with input from children. Some families set max daily limits, some limit use until the weekend, some don’t allow any use at all; rules vary. Greater success in enforcing rules happened when parents asserted authority with an explanation – especially around social media and gaming.
- Have weekly family discussions about technology. Make the uncomfortable conversations comfortable by bringing up the topics. If this is difficult for you, ask if another close adult in your family, school counselor or private counselor is willing to have the conversations. Dr Delaney uses her family, “Tech Talk Tuesday” at dinner time as a way to check in, listen and learn about how her children are using technology.
- Children know whose home has no rules. If the child isn’t okay showing a parent the text, message or picture, it is in appropriate
- Emphasize positive uses of screen time such as connecting with family, staying in touch with friends who have left school, etc
- Overall children learn by modeling. It’s equally important for parents to look at their own smartphone/device usage and to ask their children how they are affected by that usage.
- Make in-person communication a priority. In relation to smartphones overtaking personal communication, leadership expert Simon Sinek says in an effort to help us realize the importance of interacting face to face, “There’s a reason that no one has signed a peace treaty over a video conference.”
- Know about Tech-Addiction. It’s real and affects tweens, teens and adults. Find more information in this piece on how to know if you or your teen is addicted and needs help.