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How to manage  your tween’s time online through the relationship you build with them.

By Amanda Craig, PhD, LMFT, Author of Who Are You and What Have You Done with My Kid: Connect with Your Tween While They Are Still Listening

Is there a place on earth free of screens? Maybe, but not that most of us are exposed to with any regularity. Most of our tweens and teens need screens—professionally, practically and socially. Let’s just acknowledge screens are here to stay. So, how to make them part of a healthy lifestyle?

Look at the Big Picture

Intervention is important in managing screen time, but I invite you to look at the bigger picture for help in managing your tween’s screen time, something without all the conflict, something you both will actually enjoy. Here is what I mean: Your best tool to reduce your tween’s screen time is your relationship with your tween. You see, when we offer something more interesting, more appealing, more fun, our tween will come. Human relationships trump screens—every time. We just have to train our tween’s brain to know the reward they get in the time they spend with us. This means we must be mindful of how we engage.

 Four Tips that Work Like Magic

  1. Give your tween your undivided attention, be mindful of when you are multitasking or on the phone when they are with you. Instead, share the same space and be in conversation. Join them in something or somewhere important to them.
  2. Our tweens have so much on their mind. When we listen to them, really listen, while they unpack their mistakes and triumphs, sadness and uncertainties, then ask questions with genuine, nonjudgmental curiosity, we show them what it feels like to be supported and safe. It’s way better than what they get from a screen, and they will notice.
  3. It isn’t our job to entertain our tween. It is our job to value family time. Numerous studies have shown that when we eat meals together, do projects, overcome obstacles, have fun and laugh together, we feel more connected and long for more of it. And that feeling of connection only comes from real-life relationships. 
  4. Last, we do need to keep our kids safe. We do that by having a couple of expectations that we share not in anger and we consistently follow through with so it feels like a lifestyle. For example, if we say one hour of screen time a day or all screens quiet at 8pm, we parent by modeling the expectation we are enforcing. And if our tween shows signs of mental illness (i.e., depression, anxiety), we seek help such as family therapy or assessment for medication. This may also mean we reset by shutting down screen time entirely. 

Manage Expectations

It’s scary stuff. No wonder we end up parenting our tween’s screen time from a place of fear and anxiety. So, what should we do? While we may count on our tween to self-regulate and become frustrated when they don’t, the truth is, most grownups (including us!) are not good at monitoring our screen time, even when we see it getting in the way of our own relationships. So, thinking our tween is going to do a better job at it is not realistic. It is essential to communicate consistent expectations and follow through with consequences when they are not met. In fairness, at the end of a long day, who has the energy for that? Are we really going to argue and fight to get the screens away from our tween? We want to set expectations when we are calm and our tween/teen is calm. The best time to share expectations is when they are not on screens but at a more neutral time. Set the stage for later.

One Last Thought from Dr. Craig

I often wonder if parents in past generations felt about television, Elvis Presley and rock and roll the way we feel about screen time today. Were they worried? Concerned about these strangers in their homes? Though the invaders have changed, the solution remains the same. Connection cures. Connection wins.