Screens and Teens: Connecting with Our Kids in a Wireless World (my reflections)

When my parents raised me in West Africa, they didn’t have to worry about all of the world’s culture influencing me through a screen.   These days, parents all over the world face not only the parenting challenges of their local youth culture, but the global impact of technology.  While the United States has cheaper, faster internet, they also have more parenting resources to help moms and dads navigate this whole new era of parenting. So, like a desert traveler finding water I gulped up this book when I saw it on a table at the back of a church we visited, desperate for anything to help me parent my teens in this whole new world. I’ll share this book’s outline and provide links of other resources for parents in this stage of the journey. 

Technology and our deepest human needs

Reviewing the five core needs of security, identity, belonging, purpose, and competence the author points out that as parents we should help our teens see how technology can meet some aspects of those needs, but can also get in the way of meeting those needs. A significant example is in the area of identity. While the internet and social media allow our children to identify their wide range of interests, they are coping with figuring out who they are with a 24/7 peer audience.  That’s a lot of pressure! 

Truths about today’s teens

  1. Teens’ Relationships Cause Beliefs: While adults have belief-based relationships, teens have relationship-based beliefs. They prioritize relationships. Parents should prioritize their relationship with their teens so they too can have an impact.
  2. Teens want to improve the world: With technology they are exposed to the world’s problems and needs like no other generation before them. Our teens want to be a part of the solution.
  3. Teens are creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial: Encourage your teens to use their ideas and creativity to tackle the problems they see in the world.
  4. Their security IS in technology:  From infancy teens have been wired to depend on their technology.
  5. They’re Tech-Addicted, Tired, Stressed, Overwhelmed, Depressed, and Escaping: All the information that’s out there can be overwhelming. Kids are addicted to their screens. They are exhausted from answering messages in the night. We need to show them how to protect themselves from all that’s overwhelming them.

Less and More

This chapter has some practical suggestions for how to model and create space for appropriate technology use. “Some things definitely need to be less- less screen time and noise to overwhelm, stress, and fatigue our teens. And there are some things we want to do more– more family connection, more books more quiet, more play, more boredom, more gratitude.”(Koch, p. 81) (I’ll write another post on this topic).

Lie #1: I am the center of my own universe

Self-tailored technology perpetuates the lie that our teens are at the center of their own universe.  They begin to feel and act entitled.  As parents we should strive to help them see that God is actually the center of the universe. We can get to know our children better and help them share interests with others. We can teach them friendship skills and how to really connect with others.

Lie #2: I deserve to be happy all the time

This chapter might be more based on American culture, but I see this lie crossing cultural boundaries as the internet perpetuates it. Basically, our kids are being raised thinking that they should never be uncomfortable or bored and that they deserve to have their every want met. Thankfully, growing up in Africa with random power outages and limited internet is helping our global kids see that you don’t always get what you want. 

Lie #3: I must have choices

Teens have a constant array of choices. They don’t even have to buy the whole album to listen to the song they really like. They can easily get paralyzed and overwhelmed by these choices. This lie intertwines with lie #2 that they have to be happy all the time. Teens feel pressure to constantly choose what will make them happy.  As parents, we must teach and model standards that aren’t based on our happiness, but on other values. We can encourage our teens to make choices that benefit others, to serve or to think about why they made a given choice.  We can give them genuine positive feedback. Modeling sincere gratitude and contentment, not allowing ourselves to get sucked into their arguing and complaining is another way to teach our children contentment.

Lie #4: I am my own authority

So many TV shows and movies disregard authority, which is contrary to the Christian teaching that we need God’s authority in our lives and we can trust him because of who he is.  Teens have seen authority figures slammed on social media. As parents, we can help our teens process authority figure failures. We can guard our hearts and minds and establish accountability systems in our own lives to show that we can be a good example of a loving authority in our kids’ lives. We can help our children make wise media choices that have characters that respect authority.  Our teens need to hear from us how God’s authority is a blessing in our own lives.

Lie #5: Information is all I need so I don’t need teachers

Teens want information and know how to access it, but that doesn’t mean they know how to seek and find wisdom.  Just because teens are tech savvy doesn’t mean that they will automatically be successful academically, have problem-solving skills, or know how to work in relationships with others.  Parents can teach their teens how being humble, teachable, and choosing outside influences is a sign of maturity.  We can teach our teens how to know the difference between knowledge and wisdom. We need to look for teachable moments.

The ultimate connectivity

Children of all ages want to connect with their parents. I have noticed that if I am an “all-there” mother fully engaged and listening to my son, then he’ll tell me so much about what’s going on at school, his thoughts, and his feelings. But as soon as I pick up my phone to check a message or if I get on a computer to write a post, then he finds his own screen. We have to fight for that connection with our kids. We need to have conversations about technology to help them see the benefits and challenges.

It’s not enough to just say “no screens”. When we are living outside of our home culture, we need to be more intentional about finding opportunities for our kids to have screen free time to connect to peers. Invite friends over for screen free hang outs. As we model and talk regularly about healthy boundaries, then it comes more naturally for our kids.

Koch, Kathy. Screens and Teens: Connecting with Our Kids in a Wireless World. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015.

Resources:

I strongly encourage you to listen to this podcast by pediatrician, Dr. Mike : Teens and Screens- PediaCast CME 052. The second half of the podcast provides insight into a lot of the social media issues our teens are facing, with tools to help teens proactively protect themselves. This website also has links to helpful resources.

This is a great article about setting healthy guidelines for our teens on screens: Screen Time Guidelines for Teens (for Parents) from Nemours KidsHealth.

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