You’ve probably heard some alarming numbers about how much time teens spend in front of screens. (Anywhere from 7 to 12 hours a day, according to various studies.) More than that, you’ve witnessed it firsthand. How do you talk to your teen about screen time limits, and what should those limits look like?

Let’s lay a firm relational foundation first.

  1. Your example as a parent speaks louder than any words. How you interact with screens in your life will have a more significant impact on your teen than what you tell them. (If there is a disconnect between what you show/tell, your teen will spot it, and it will undermine your credibility.)
  1. Your relationship with your teen, in general, and ongoing healthy communication, in general, create the context to meaningfully talk to your teen about screen time. (And everything else.) As a parent, you want to build relationship capital with your teen. This means being available and approachable and investing time with your teen.
  1. Talking to your teen about technology will be an ongoing, evolving conversation. It’s not a one-time talk.

Smartphones and social media are all relatively recent developments. This means that research concerning the impact of technology is ongoing. Here are some things we can confidently say that should be part of your conversations with your teen.

Pay close attention to the general health of your teen.

Pay close attention to the general health of your teen.

  • No screens at bedtime. (Technically, no screens an hour before your teen needs to sleep.) If screens are affecting your teen’s ability to sleep, causing them to constantly be indoors, or contributing to a sedentary lifestyle, you need to help your teen find some balance. 

If this sounds like general engaged parenting, it’s because it is. Screens are here to stay and shouldn’t be your main focus as a parent. Your teen is where you should be focused. 

For instance, we know that increased screen time leads to increased caloric intake. Screens or no screens, you want to make sure your teen has a healthy, balanced diet. Is your teen getting restorative sleep, going outside and getting fresh air, and engaging in some form of exercise? What is the role of screen time in all of the above?

  • There seems to be a connection between social media use and anxiety and depression, especially for teenage girls. What researchers haven’t sussed out yet is the nature of the connection. Does prolonged use of social media cause anxiety and depression, or do anxious, depressed teens gravitate to social media as a coping mechanism?

Research is beginning to examine not just the amount of time, but how teens are using social media.

Remember the 3 Cs– Consumption, Creation, and Collaboration. Creating and collaborating can be incredibly positive for your teen. Simply consuming Tik Tok videos for hours on end is another matter. 

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “joint media engagement” for parents and teens. This means spending time with your teen while using technology, so screen time can be a regular part of your relationship. Ask your teen to show you the videos that made them laugh and the social media posts that made them angry. Ask your teen how they feel about themselves while spending time on social media. Have fun and play some video games together.

Evidence increasingly suggests that the ways teens use technology is more significant than simply knowing how much they use it. This means you aren’t monitoring minutes; you’re cultivating a robust relationship with your teen as you use technology together. This will lead to more constructive conversations and fewer conflicts and confrontations. 

“Mom, I don’t want to go to school today. I’m not good at writing letters. Some of my friends are better than me,” my almost 4-year-old told me with tears in his eyes. This was the first time he ever told me he didn’t want to go to preschool. It was certainly the first time he revealed anxiety about what other people thought of him or his abilities.

“Honey, you’re still learning how to write letters. You do so well at learning things! Maybe we can write letters together this afternoon. Would you like to practice letters with me?” I gave him a big hug hoping to spark some excitement. He sluggishly nodded his head, put on his backpack, and headed out the door.

This scenario lingered with me all day. Honestly, I wasn’t concerned about his ability to write letters. He’s almost four and intelligent and curious. I was concerned about his mental health. Were other kids making fun of his handwriting? Were the teachers openly comparing students’ handwriting to encourage improvement? Or did he compare himself to his classmates on his own? Was this going to affect his development and confidence in other areas?

A Pew Research Report released in January of 2023 found parents are more concerned about their child’s mental health than other previously common factors. Four in ten U.S. parents with children younger than 18 say they are “extremely” or “very worried” that their children might struggle with anxiety or depression at some point. These items topped parents’ concerns about certain physical threats to their children, the dangers of drugs and alcohol, teen pregnancy, and getting in trouble with the police. (It should be noted the report indicated that mothers are more likely than fathers to worry about most of these things by significant margins.)

The rise in concern about mental health isn’t surprising. We’re just on the other side of a global pandemic, and many reports reveal a youth mental crisis. 

Here are a few ways you can positively influence and care for your child’s mental health:

  1. Provide a safe, loving environment. Set reasonable expectations for your child based on their age and development. This includes their list of chores, how they handle change, and how they process their emotions. Praise your child for the things they do well, and let them know you love them regularly.
  2. Use open communication and ask questions. If you notice your child is retreating or in deep thought, ask, “What are you thinking about?” or “How are you feeling?” This will encourage them to talk to you about things they may be struggling with or processing internally. Even if they don’t answer you immediately, the fact that you opened the door makes it more likely for them to come to you when they are ready to talk.
  3. Break down problem thoughts together. If your child begins to share thoughts of anxiety or depression, break down those thoughts together and help bring them back to reality. Therapists use the ABC model during Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Still, it’s a useful tool you can use on your own or with your child. Here’s how it works.

A: Identify the Adversity or Activating event that caused the thought. 

(For example: When it was time to go to school, my son became anxious and didn’t want to leave the house.)

B: What are the Beliefs around that event? 

(My son believed his ability to write letters wasn’t as good as his fellow classmates, and therefore HE wasn’t as good as his classmates.)

C: What are the positive and negative Consequences of these beliefs?

(Believing his handwriting was bad was keeping my son from wanting to go to school and learn. Staying home would hinder him from being able to see his friends, play, and continue to learn new things, all things he really wanted to do and be a part of.)

All in all, the greatest gift you can give to your child’s mental health is a deeply connected relationship. Remember, you know your child better than anyone. If you’re deeply concerned about your child’s mental health, take the free Parent Screening at mhascreening.org to see if professional help may be needed.

My son was born four years ago. I took a three month maternity leave and eased my way back into work, a luxury many parents do not have. I remember calling my sister-in-law one night (who is also a working mom) and sobbing to her about my life. I’m a horrible mom. My son is being cared for by someone else. Will he even know me? What if he thinks someone else is his mom?

My sister-in-law told me the best advice I’ve ever been given as a working parent, “Lauren. It’s the quality of time spent with him that matters, not the quantity.”

Her words calmed my nerves and made me view each moment I spent with my son that much more precious. But the best part is: her words are backed by research.

Dr. Melissa Milkie, Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, completed research in 2015 that focused on the effects of parental involvement with children. The study revealed that quantity of time mattered far less than the quality of interaction, especially for children under the age of 12. 

As parents, we often find ourselves doing a lot of things for our children. Making dinner, cleaning up, doing laundry, taking them from here to there. What if we seized the opportunity to not only “do” but to “be” for our children? What if we were to “be” intentional through connecting with them in conversation, playing with them and letting them lead activities?

Dr. Dan Siegal, a New York Times Bestselling Author and professor of psychiatry at UCLA, says just 10 minutes of intentional uninterrupted time of play, conversation and sharing of experiences with your child can do wonders for your relationship with them, as well as their confidence, brain development and behavior. That’s right, just 10 minutes.

If you’re a working parent, you may be thinking, “I don’t have 10 minutes!” Here are few ideas to find those 10 minutes in your day:

  • Before work/school: Talk about the schedule of the day, how each other is feeling, what you’re excited or nervous about.
  • After work/school: Play with your child, but let them LEAD. No phones, no screens, just unhindered time for connection and fun.
  • Involve your child in cooking or doing chores: This may sound scary, but even just asking them to be present in the kitchen while you make dinner or sweep the floor can make them feel like they’re important to you and an integral part of your world. You can always ask questions, sing songs or play “I Spy” while you fold clothes or peel potatoes.
  • Before bed: Read with your child. Talk about what you enjoy in the story and anything new you may have learned. Or follow up on your day. Take turns sharing the best thing that happened to you that day, one thing new you may have tried, or one way you helped someone else. 

Here’s a little inside secret: I started using the 10 minute theory with my son three years ago. While it has relieved some pressure, it has ultimately helped me to see our relationship through a different lens. And it’s helped me to realize just how much time I DO have with him and how much each second matters.

Being a parent is about more than just being around your child. It’s about being connected with your child.

My husband bathes our son and gets him ready for bed almost every night. He also feeds him breakfast and gets him prepared for school most mornings. While I cook dinner or finish some last-minute work tasks, my husband will take our son to the park to kick the soccer ball or engage in his favorite activity of all time–wrestling.

I often hear comments such as, “Wow, your husband is a super-involved dad.” And they’re right. He is super involved, especially in comparison to previous generations. 

It’s no surprise, in today’s rapidly changing society traditional gender roles have evolved.

This evolution has created a glaringly positive outcome: Fathers are more actively involved in raising their children than ever before. According to a 2019 Pew Research study, Dads of our current generation are spending three times more time with their children than they did 50 years ago. This increase in time also includes a more hands-on approach than previous generations. Over half the dads in the study reported they spend an hour or more per day playing with and caring for their children.

Why is it so important for dads to be involved in their child’s life?

Decades of research give us four key reasons:

1. Dads are the key to a child’s emotional development.

Fathers contribute significantly to the emotional well-being of their children. A study published in the Journey of Family Psychology found children who have positive relationships with their fathers have fewer behavioral problems, better social skills and enhanced emotional regulation compared to those with distant or absent fathers. Plus, father-child interactions promote empathy, self-control, and emotional intelligence in children, providing them with valuable skills that are essential for navigating future relationships and managing their emotions effectively.

2. Dads impact their child’s education and achievement.

The National Center for Education Statistics revealed that children with actively engaged Fathers have higher levels of academic achievement, improved cognitive skills, and increased interest in education. Father-child interactions, such as reading together and providing academic support, have been linked to improved language development, enhanced problem-solving skills, and a desire for continued learning throughout life.

3. Dads play a pivotal role in a child’s mental health.

The presence of a caring and involved father figure is closely linked to improved mental health in children. A comprehensive meta-analysis published in the Journal of Family Psychology revealed children with engaged fathers have higher self-esteem, increased self-confidence, and lower rates of depression and anxiety. The emotional support, encouragement, and guidance provided by dads foster resilience and help children navigate life’s challenges.

4. Dad’s presence influences their child to make better decisions.

Actively engaged fathers are shown to directly impact risky behaviors in teens and young adults. Studies published in the Journal of Marriage and Family and the Journal of Adolescent Health reveal fathers who are involved in their child’s life are associated with lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and criminal behavior. According to the research, when dad is present, children feel they have an even stronger support system, firmer boundaries, and a deeper responsibility for the decisions they make.

This Father’s Day, let’s not only celebrate dads for all they’re doing, but support them in their nurturing role. It’s crucial for us as a society to recognize the importance of dads and to promote their involvement in the formation of a more inclusive and harmonious society. Together, we can celebrate and value the irreplaceable role of fathers in shaping the future generation.

Sources:

Livingston & Parker. (2019). 8 Facts About American Dads.

https://rb.gy/fv81h

10 Tips for Managing Screen Time During The School Year

It takes patience and consistency to find what works best.

We live in a digital world, so screens are a huge part of our everyday lives. And with school back in session, kids use screens more frequently during the day. Managing screen time during the school year is a big deal for all of us. And since we all spend a lot of time with technology, it’s up to us to help our children have a healthy relationship with their screens. 

Managing screen time during the school year is essential for our kids’ development. 

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, too much screen time can have side effects, including:1

  • Sleeping problems.
  • Poor self-image.
  • Less time spent outdoors.
  • Lower grades.
  • Attention disorders.

Define how much screen time is enough.

The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t have a set recommendation for kids 6 and older. They do recommend that parents set consistent limits and ensure that screens don’t replace sleep and physical activity.2

Explain to your kids that too much time sitting watching screens is not healthy.3,4 Establish consequences if they break the rules you set for them.

Practice what you preach. 

The hardest part of managing your child’s screen time may be managing your own. Kids learn by watching. They will establish their relationship with technology based on your relationship with technology. If you always have the TV on or scroll through your phone whenever you have free time, they will probably do the same. 

If you want your child to learn responsible technology use, model it for them.

Adjust the limits based on the day.

Different days may call for different screen limits. For some families, school days may mean no screens. For others, screen usage may be significantly reduced during school nights. Weekends may get extended screen time. You know your family and should do what’s best for your household. The most essential aspect of screen time is balance. Kids need physical activity and creativity. Make sure they are spending time being active, whether structured or unstructured.

Make bedrooms screen-free.

Keep TVs, video games, and computers in common areas. This keeps kids from disappearing with a screen for hours. It also helps you know what they are using screens for and how much time they spend on them. Screen-free bedrooms are a little more challenging with phones and tablets. Charging devices (even your own) overnight in a common area can be helpful.

Studies show that using screens before bedtime makes it harder for kids to fall asleep. It also reduces sleep quality. And when kids are tired, it’s harder for them to learn.5 

Give your kids other options to keep them active instead of screen time.

They can take walks, ride bikes or scooters, or play outside. Offer other indoor activities, like board games or crafts. Set aside time to play with them. Kids need to be active daily. Even if you can’t be active with them, you can encourage and support them in their activities.

Have them earn screen time during the school year (and beyond).

It’s okay to make your kids complete homework and specific tasks or chores before you allow them to have screen time. There are different ways parents can put this into practice. One option is that homework and chores come first. Then they can have a set amount of screen time depending on how long it is until bedtime. Another is to allow them to earn screen time by completing chores. You can create a system where a task earns X amount of screen time.

Encourage your children’s creativity.

If your child loves watching videos or playing video games, encourage them to create their own. My daughter loves to make videos when we travel. She wants to show others the places she visits and tell them about her experiences. We don’t share these, but she is learning how to vlog. When she gets a little older, she can learn how to create these and make them shareable. 

Engage with your child’s technology. 

Watch videos with your kids and learn to play their games. Both of my kids enjoy watching YouTube creators. We watch with them so we can understand what they are watching, but also learn with them. My son loves to watch a former NASA engineer, and my daughter enjoys cooking videos. We’ve learned a lot as a family through their videos. It’s also common in our house to have family video game nights. Let’s just say MarioKart tournaments get intense!

Look for ways to engage screens as a family through games, videos, or apps.

Use mistakes as teachable moments. 

As your child learns more about technology and screens, they will make mistakes. They may accidentally visit an inappropriate site, watch content you would not approve of, or go over their screen time. Mistakes are great learning opportunities. 

Questions to consider moving forward:

  • What’s one way you can improve your own screen-time habits?
  • What are routines you can start to encourage physical activity and creativity?
  • What area in your house can you designate as a tech-charging zone?
  • What are activities your child can engage in that don’t involve screens?
  • What task can your child complete to earn screen time?
  • What’s one show that your family can watch and use to grow together?

Managing screen time requires patience. Pick one or two of these that you can implement, and choose the easiest for your family. The key is consistency. And don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it right all the time. Remember, their mistakes (and ours) make for great teachable moments.

Other articles:

Your Ultimate Guide to Screen Time

How Much Should You Limit Kids’ Screen Time and Electronics Use?

Screen Time for Kids: Guidelines, Boundary Setting, and Educational Recommendations

Sources:

1American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Screen Time and Children.

2American Academy of Pediatrics. Children and media tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

3U.S. National Library of Medicine. Health risks of an inactive lifestyle.

4Barnett, T.A., et al. (2018). Sedentary behaviors in today’s youth—approaches to the prevention and management of childhood obesity: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000591.

5Chang, A.M., et al. (2015). Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1418490112.

Moreno, M.A., et al. (2016). Media use in school-aged children and adolescents. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-2592.

As you were raising your children you emphasized the importance of treating each other with respect, making wise choices and doing the right thing. So, why do your adult children make poor decisions?

Seriously, let’s be honest. As a parent, it’s sometimes hard not to experience anger, perhaps some guilt and even resentment toward your grown children when you watch them repeatedly treat you or others disrespectfully, make poor decisions with money or their career, or make poor choices in general.

You may even question where you went wrong as a parent…“How could this child have grown up in our home and be making life-altering decisions that are affecting them AND the lives of their loved ones and friends?” you ask yourself over and over again.

☆ While you might be initially tempted to swoop in and rescue, take a deep breath and keep reading.

Before you beat yourself up and allow guilt to invade your mind, stop. It’s highly likely you did everything you could to help prepare your child for adulthood. Questioning every decision you made as a parent isn’t helpful for anyone. 

Here are some ways you can still be a guide for your grown child and give yourself peace of mind – even if they’re making poor decisions.

Communicate.

If you have a voice at all in your child’s life, now would be a good time to ask to have a conversation with them. As the parent of an adult child, how you approach this conversation can make the difference in whether or not you’ll be afforded the opportunity to continue to speak into their life. BEFORE you have this conversation, process through your own emotions in order to be as unemotional as possible while you’re talking with them. Also, think about what really needs to be said.

This should not be a lecture or interrogation. Ask them about what they’re trying to accomplish. Express your concern for what you see them doing or how you see them behaving. You might be able to offer wisdom, suggest other people for them to talk with, or resources to assist them in getting back on track. Avoid fixing it for them

Set boundaries.

Regardless of whether you’re able to have a conversation with your child, if you’ve not already set very clear boundaries for them, now is the time. Sometimes parents feel like they’re being unloving when they do this. In reality, the exact opposite is true. This is one of the most loving things you can do to help them move forward in a healthy way. Consider boundaries such as: 

  • You’ll not tolerate being treated disrespectfully, so if they can’t be respectful, they can’t be in your home. 
  • If they’re dealing with addictive behavior, you’re willing to help them get the help they need, but you won’t support their habit.1
  • They won’t be able to access your money, even if something were to happen to you.
  • Giving them money to bail them out of financial mistakes will not be possible.  
  • Taking responsibility for their behavior in any way won’t happen.
  • Moving back home is not an option. OR if moving back home could be an option, it wouldn’t happen without a contract in place about what will happen while they are at home and a move-out date set. A warning: if you choose to let them move back home, even with a contract in place, it could be very difficult to get them out.

Avoid enabling.

No matter how old your child is, your role as parent never stops, but it does change. When they’re adults, you’re more the coach or advisor on the sidelines, not their manager. It is incredibly painful to watch your children make poor decisions and not swoop in to fix it. Unless you want your 30, 45, 50-year-old child expecting you to continue to make everything alright for them, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT enable them by taking responsibility for their actions. Don’t confuse enabling with loving your adult child.

Don’t cave.

This may require you to pull together a group of trusted friends to support you and help you stay strong. We love our children. Following through on our commitments to keep the boundaries that are in place and not rescue them can feel so unloving. It just goes against everything in us as parents. Yet, standing strong and following through with what you said you would do is actually the most helpful thing you can do for your child to encourage movement in a healthy direction.

Manage your emotions.

Parenting adult children who make poor decisions can be like a roller coaster ride. One minute you think you are making progress and the next day you are in the pit again. It’s tempting to let them have it, but don’t. You do need to be able to process your emotions, but don’t do it with your child. Talk with a trusted wise friend or seek out counseling. Let the tears flow, put words to the disappointment, anger and resentment you feel, grieve what you thought would be that is not, and make a plan for how you will continue to live as fully as possible even in the midst of your adult child living in turmoil. This is vital.

Don’t let their behavior put a damper on your love for them.

Sometimes it’s hard not to take your adult child’s behavior personally as though they are doing it just to get back at you. While that is possible, it isn’t necessarily true. They still need to know there is nothing they could do to make you love them more or love them less. Your love for them isn’t conditional.

Live your life.

When people ask you how you are, in your heart of hearts, you feel like you are only doing as well as your children are doing. At some point, we have to separate our adult child’s behavior from ourselves and choose not to let them rob us of all of our joy in life. I’m not saying we don’t grieve. What I am saying is, we don’t allow it to consume us.

It’s funny—as our children move from one stage to the next, we think to ourselves, “Wow, I’m glad we are past that.” believing the next stage will be easier only to find out the current stage has its own set of unique challenges. When we finally believe we’ve arrived at a place where our adult children can function on their own, we find even this season of parenting has its own set of challenges, especially because they can do so much damage that is completely out of our control, but we can be impacted immensely by it. 

Being the parent of adult children who make poor decisions or behave badly is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage and tenacity to do what you know is in their and your best interest. Stand strong. Love powerfully. And, in those moments when you are weak and deviate from the plan, give yourself some grace, get back up and keep putting one foot in front of the other. 

Sources

1Hazeldon Betty Ford Foundation. (2018, August 24). Boundaries in Addiction Recovery. 

2Smith, K. (2018, March 14). What Is the Difference Between Supporting and Enabling? PsychCentral. 

Image from Unsplash.com

8 Reminders for a Great School Year

Decrease stress and drama with these steps.

Wait, what? It’s already time for school to start? It seems like just yesterday that kids were doing the happy dance as they got off the bus and headed home for summer break.

Are you ready to kick off a great school year with less stress and as little drama as possible?

Here are eight reminders to help parents set the stage for a great year:

  1. It’s okay to say “no” when commitments get too demanding. Many child experts warn parents about the stress children experience when they participate in too many activities. Ask yourself, “Are we in control of our schedule, or does it control us?”
  1. Saying “no” can be for you, too. On top of children being stressed, parents really have to consider their own bandwidth when it comes to school, work and additional commitments. A stressed-out, tired parent who is always at the end of their rope typically leads to more drama. Ask yourself, “Will my family benefit more from this activity or from an unstressed parent?”
  1. Routines and structure at home will help everyone. Having consistency at home is best for children and parents alike. When you set a bedtime, morning, and getting home routine, you’ll actually decrease stress for children (and adults) because they know what to expect. Ask your family, “What’s one routine we can start that will help everyone after getting home from school?”
  1. Intentional evenings create smooth mornings. Things like choosing an outfit, packing lunches, getting backpacks ready with completed homework inside and signing papers before bedtime can make the morning better. Anything you (and your kids) can do the night before to make the morning less hectic is a serious plus! Ask your family, “What’s one thing we can all be responsible for every evening to help our mornings go better?”
  1. Let your children do what they are capable of doing for themselves. Start by giving each child a short list of responsibilities as their contribution to the family. It’s tempting to do things yourself because it’s faster or easier. But it’s good to develop the habit of delegating stuff you know they can handle. When you face the temptation to jump in and take over a task, tell yourself,  “Giving room for independence will have a bigger impact on my child than if we’re late.”
  1. You will always be one of your child’s teachers. As a parent, you’ll always be your child’s first teacher. But the job isn’t over just because they’re in school! From homework help to life skills, try to be active in your child’s education. Ask your child, “What is one subject you feel a little nervous about? Is there anything I can do to help support you in that subject?”
  1. Technology is a tool. Technology is almost always a huge part of education, so setting screen limits and technology boundaries can be tricky! You can find helpful information as you seek to make decisions about this at Families Managing Media. Ask your child’s teacher, “What role does technology play in the classroom? And what are the expectations for technology at home?”
  1. Regular family meetings can help keep communication open. Set a weekly time for the family to all sit down together – even if it’s only for 10 minutes. Talk about what’s on deck in the coming week for everyone, and see if anybody is responsible for taking food or materials to school. Plan meal prep for the week, or discuss anything important for everybody to know. Ask your family, “What are two things you’d like us to talk about more often?”

Getting into the swing of things as the school year starts doesn’t have to take till fall break! Make time for your family to connect and communicate – it’s one of the most effective ways to decrease stress and drama. Here’s to a stress-free and great start to the school year for your family!

Other blogs:

8 Ways to Manage Family Time – First Things First

My Spouse and I Disagree About Parenting – First Things First

How Technology Affects Families – First Things First