Parents, Now It’s On Us — Only We Can Reverse These Trends

teens

Parents, it’s time we work together.

In the past few months, a few startling statistics have surfaced about our teens, and I for one, am very concerned. According to Common Sense Media, texting is now teens’ preferred way to socialize. 35% would rather text their friends as compared to 32% who favor spending time together in-person. This shift has occurred in just six years, and its implications run deep when we know that humans form the strongest bonds and develop empathy through face-to-face interaction.

But, it’s no wonder teens feel this way when 55% report they continue to use their phones when friends are over. Why bother going to your friends’ houses if they’re just going to be on their phones the whole time? It would be one thing if teens were apathetic about this, but 44% say they’re frustrated.

Parents, this is good news is—I think we still have time.

Just this month, JAMA Pediatrics reports that only 5% of teens meet recommendations for sleep, exercise, and screen time. What this means in practical reality, is that millions of teens are texting, posting, and commenting into the wee hours of the night. They may in theory have a bedtime, but their devices do not. The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and anxiety build, perpetuating the corrosive cycle. The resulting lack of sleep may be contributing to a mental health crisis for our youth.

Parents, what you allow in the privacy of your own homes is one thing, but these devices we put in our children’s hands are mobile—they go out into the world, and there is a definite, and undeniable, community effect.

I’ve seen the letters from principals informing parents that middle schoolers are watching porn on the bus, and the letters broadcasting their concerns about Fortnite. I’ve heard the stories of kids saddened when their friends prefer the company of their phones during carpool and playdates. I’ve heard the protests, “I don’t want to go because everyone else will be on their phones.” I’ve also witnessed end-of-season volleyball celebrations where every 12-year-old girls’ face was illuminated by blue light. I’ve seen parents capitulate in these circumstances and fork over their kids’ devices. And just like that, the dominoes start to fall.  

But parents, it doesn’t have to be like this.

Finally, amid a mountain of outcry from parents and investors alike, Apple rose to the occasion after a decade of inadequate parental controls. Apple has finally put parents in the driver’s seat and allowed us to take the wheel when ‘Parenting Technology’. With Screen Time released in iOS 12, we can now set time limits and turn our kids’ devices off, all from the convenience of our own phones. Screen Time’s not perfect—improvements are still needed, but it’s a giant leap in the right direction.

Finally, we have the tools we need to reverse these disturbing trends (figuring out how to make them work for you is another matter).

Yes, of course, our kids need to learn self-regulation—hopefully, they’ll be headed off to college one day—but what better time to teach them than when they’re still under our roofs? If their developing brains receive the message that technology should have limits because it’s good for your health and well-being, then eventually it gets habituated.

It’s never too late to begin anew, and starting with a Family Agreement is a good first step. Wouldn’t it be great if every family agreed on basic etiquette for social occasions and parents took charge to make sure their kids’ devices were shut down at bedtime and blocking explicit content?

A childhood lost cannot be reclaimed. Parents, this is on us.

Julie Paul
Founder, Heard It From A Friend

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