We’ve made to another Friday – hooray! I am looking forward to sleeping in and spending time with my family this weekend. Last night I asked my son if he wanted to do something together and I am really glad he said yes.
Like many teenagers, he likes to spend time on his computer playing games. He also needs to do all of his homework on his computer. And of course, he spends time communicating with his friends and browsing Twitter, Reddit and Discord. When he is not on the computer, he is walking around with his headphones on listening to rap music. Needless to say, it’s hard to get his attention. I was starting to get panicked about how much time he was spending on his devices.
After a little melt down of my own, in which I tried to grab his phone away from him (which of course totally backfired and just made him hate me – see my post Stumbling and Getting Back Up again) I decided to do some reading to see what I could do to try to lure him away from the glow of his screens.
I was already aware of the addicting properties of screens – how games can be so immersive and reinforcing, bathing our kids’ developing brains in dopamine so that they just want more more more! Screens also offer a sense of connection to others, which is especially appealing for kids with social skills challenges. But in reality, the more people spend time on their devices (kids and adults) typically the more they feel disconnected from those around them, leading to depression and isolation.
As I was reading over articles and books, an idea began to emerge for me – I realized I need to spend more time connectingwith my son, spending time with him, helping him develop interests off-line. There is no magic bullet. This is not something he is likely going to be able to do on his own. My husband and I thought our kids had outgrown the need to spend lots of time with us, but the reality is, as teens, they need us more than ever. Sure they can make their own meals, run errands for us or do their own laundry, but they are still kids with developing brains and they need input and guidance from us regarding how to grow up and become responsible adults.
So how do we find the way in to rebuilding this connection? A few answers I gleaned from my reading that make sense to me include: spending time in nature (gardening, taking a hike, or even just walking around the neighborhood); creating structured time together (playing board games, arts & crafts projects, science projects, building with Lego, cooking); making chores mandatory to earn screen time (this is one of my favorites!); listening to music together (he will play a song that he likes, then I’ll play one I like); instituting screen-free family time (meal time, game night, volunteering or going to the movies – yes, I know, it’s a really really big screen); and exercising.
So tonight we will take a look at the weather for the weekend and then make a plan together. It is important to have his buy-in on the plan. Otherwise, it will just be another thing we will fight about. And yes, it may mean doing something I am not really excited to do. But the activity itself is not really the point. The point is to create opportunities for my son to learn how to enjoy himself offline. I think of it as an investment of my time, with the dividends being that he will grow up to be a fully functioning member of society, instead of a couch potato who spends all his time on the computer, eating bags of chips and fast food. That an image that haunts my dreams and I think its worth just about anything to make sure that does not come to pass.
Is this an issue you are struggling with in your family? If so, you are not alone. Almost every parent of teens I know is grappling with this and those with younger kids are actively exploring how to avoid this predicament. If you have great strategies or resources that you would like to share with the TECA community, please respond to this post with your comments.
Thanks and have a great weekend!