You may have experienced the perpetual frustration of trying to communicate with someone who is permanently glued to a screen. It’s even more frustrating when that someone is your child (sorry… young adult), and you just want to spend some quality time with them!
Laptops, smart phones, smart watches, tablets, video games, the TV… it kind of makes our parents warning us about square eyes seem a bit redundant, doesn’t it? The vast majority of research tells us that the more screen time we have, the more our physical, social, psychological and even cognitive health suffers, so why are they so glued to the damn things?
When it comes down to it, the whole reason teens want to be on their screens is fear: their fear of missing out, a fear of not being connected to their peers and a fear of being left behind in a world where everyone seems to know each other. So it seems that the best way to get them off their screens is to make sure they still feel connected!
What do you want your teen to do instead? Your strategy for minimising your teen’s screen time will differ with your aim, so here are a few different ways to get your teen off the screen (depending on what you’re after, of course!).
I want more family time
When they’re kids, they just want to spend time with you. When they’re teens, they start drifting away. Screens can tend to widen the divide, so it seems like the easiest way to get them to come back to you is to get rid of their screens, right? Wrong. Simply enforcing a ban can make your teen resent you, so try some other approaches that will ease their way into using their screens less.
Make sitting down for dinner together as a family a regular event – with no screens. This time is about everyone talking to each other, so refrain from books, newspapers, and other things that don’t technically fit into the ‘screens’ category. Once this is a regular event and your teen is more comfortable with the idea, you can extend it into board games nights, weekly family outings, or whole trips away with no screens allowed!
I want them to get outside!
Connection is your keyword: your teen wants to be connected to their friends and in the loop. Consider encouraging them to join a sporting team, start a mixed touch football team with their friends, head out for adventures with their friends on the weekend, join the local surf or swimming club, join a youth group (secular youth groups exist too) or regularly go to a teen-focused class that teaches them a lifelong skill like gardening.
It may sound lame on the surface to your teen, but these activities will connect them with new people and their peers, and help them feel like they belong to a community. Plus, the majority of these outdoor activities have major mental health benefits.
I just want them to spend their time doing something else
Seeing your teen doing the same thing every day can be pretty frustrating, and even more so when you know what they’re doing is having an adverse effect on their health.
You need to consistently present them with reasons why they shouldn’t be glued to their screens by giving them lots of other opportunities (think skydiving, makeup courses, bike riding – anything your teen boy or teen girl would like!). If they’re not interested, make it a mandatory challenge. It sounds difficult, but you’re going to need to be tough on them. Expect some pushback, but when you’re constantly offering awesome adventures as a reward for being mindful about their screen use they’re going to get the picture pretty quickly.
Something to keep in mind is that screens aren’t going away. We’re becoming more dependent on them to learn, to work, to socialise, and more, and it’s unlikely this dependency will disappear. What you can do, however, is put a huge emphasis on human interaction and how important it is to everyone.
This is not an easy task you’re faced with, so persist. Eventually all the little changes that you make will have a huge difference on your teen, and they’ll be the ones asking the same thing when they’ve got their own teenagers who won’t keep off their screens while riding those dang hover boards around the house! (I’m still holding out hope for the hover board… it’ll happen one day!)