Screen Time and Teens – When is Enough?

download-1The topic of teens, their phones and screen time usage comes up a lot.  So, I decided to post a few suggestions for those parents who are trying to figure out the ground rules.  

The phone, in some ways, has replaced the TV of the 70’s & 80’s.  That was a time when kids could sit in front of a TV and watch for hours, like wide eyes zombie. Dreading when mom would say the words  “That’s enough TV… shut it off and go outside!”  We would die a little inside and yell back “But mom…this is my favorite show!!” However, once outside and away from the TV, you would strangely feel better. Like some invisible chain was broken.

Now that the phone can be used to stream Netflix, Youtube and other videos, I think parents should treat the phone similar to the TV and ask themselves: “What are the rules of TV watching in our house?” and use that as a reference point.

The next thing that comes to mind is… “Who bought the phone?” If mom or dad bought the phone, it’s important to put the rules, limits and expectations out there regarding phone usage from the beginning.  I cannot stress this enough. Otherwise, it ends up like a runaway train.

If a parent is considering buying their child a phone, think about the following before making the purchase.

1) Who pays for the phone and the service?  Whoever pays for it, set’s the rule. Be clear with your child. 

2) Why do they need the phone? Think this through. Can they only use it for Emergencies? Does your family have a crazy schedule and it helps keep everyone organized?  Or, are you feeling pressured (by your child) to JUST buy a phone.

3) What are the rules around phone usage? In other words, when can they use the phone? After homework is finished, a few hours before bed, or weekends only?  Again, be clear.

For those parents who have already bought a phone for their teen, it can be hard to rewind and set some rules after the fact, but try.  I suggest slowly weening them off the phone to a structured period of time that you are comfortable with.  Maybe start with no phone during dinner, then moving to…no phone after 8pm on a school night.  OR, what about having it charge in a central location (out of her room) at night? Then s/he get’s it back once they comes down for breakfast in the am.  Also, take a look at your own phone usage and let that be an example for them.

downloadLastly, regardless of your age, it’s not good to constantly stare at a phone screen. The screen is small, fonts are small, and it can be bad on your eyes with prolonged use.  We could all probably benefit from a little less time with our phones.

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Who Wants to Talk About Snapchat?

Okay… Who wants to talk about Snapchat? I’ve received quite a few questions about Snapshot lately, so I thought I’d take the time and address them. So what is Snapchat?

Snapchat  is an app that allows you to “snap” a photo and posted it to text. The selling point of the app is that the photo disappears after 10 seconds. It’s a visual chat– a kind of “freeze framing” a specific moment in time. It’s all about spontaneity and no impulse control. Just what kids need more of–right? 

The app creates the illusion that the information you send will be secretive and then disappear forever. This is certainly attractive to young kids, who are tempted to send things that are a bit risqué. They feel a false sense of safety in doing so, since their content will magically disappear. Right? Wrong….like everything else on the internet, it doesn’t disappear. The receiver of the information can easily take a screenshot of what was sent, hold on to it and then share with whomever they choose.  This app is also becoming a big tool for cyber bullies because they can send and hide behind a mean message/photo and then “poof” it’s gone. Leaving the receiver in a state of shock. Numb and upset by what they just saw. It’s damaging, hurtful and can negatively affect ones’ self-esteem and sense of self -worth.

As an adult, I can somewhat see the value in a tool like this. However, I don’t think I’ve ever texted something that needed to self destruct in 10 seconds like I’m a character from Mission Impossible.  However, I CAN see this as a smart marketing tool for businesses sharing information about last minute sales with values customers, pop-up events or secret coupon codes.  It can certainly build brand loyalty. But, let’s be honest; teens are the ones mostly using this tool.

Personally, I think there should be stricter requirements attached to opening Snapchat accounts. The only requirement is that you must be 13 years old.  That’s still too young. I think it’s more dangerous than kids are realizing. Encouraging impulsive actions that can have a lifetime of repercussions sounds like a recipe for disaster. As a parent, you need to check out the app and decide for yourself. Here is a good video about Snapchat to help you get started.