Like many other adults across the country, I went to a viewing of Screenagers. It’s a film that follows one mom’s journey to understand the impact of the devices on teens. I won’t give too much away because I think you should see it if you haven’t–every parent should. Screens are one of top three issues of our generation of parents. But here are my 5 takeaways from Screenagers.
Limits are necessary. Even if screenagers don’t like them, they appreciate them.
If you are concerned about the impact of screens on your kids brains, motivation, and self control, you are paying attention. As the parent, it is up to you to regulate the use of technology in your house. If you don’t your kids won’t do it for themselves. And, if you listen to the kids in the film, they are ultimately grateful that an adult sets limits on the thing they are addicted to, even if they don’t like them.
We are all in this cellphone experiment together. It’s on us to model the behavior we want to see. Until we try to put our phones away and be in the moment, we don’t realize how hard it is to do what we are asking our kids to do.
Kids are smart, and they are aware of the contradicting messages we send them. In Screenagers, they call out their parents for doing the exact things their parents are forcing them not to do. In a particularly painful moment, one dad is getting called out by his kids for being screen addicted, and he tries to deflect the blame and put it on his wife instead.
If you do nothing else, take the phone away at night, preferably before 10.
Even if you didn’t have guidelines when you gave the phone to your teen, it’s not too late to put them in place.Literally take it and any other old i-Pod/I-touch/texting device and either lock them up, put them in your room, whatever. But get them out of the bedroom at night.
Be flexible and let your screenager have input.
The filmmaker and her husband give their 12 year old daughter a phone, and at the same time hand her a 5 page phone contract. The girl scoffs at the length and detail of it. Eventually they come around and allow her to have some say in the rules of usage. She is very reasonable. My favorite moment is when her dad bends to allow her to use her phone in the morning. He acknowledges that teen girls “need” a phone during this time. Even though he doesn’t understand it, he abides. It’s a great moment between them.
Technology use is an ongoing conversation, not just a point of contention.
Make the time regularly to put all phones away and look at each other and ask questions like, “When do you text vs. when do you call?” or “What apps are you using these days?” or “Has there been anything in your screen world that isn’t sitting well with you?” Listen to what your kids ask and also, share your perspective as well.
Screenagers is not a film for kids–it’s like asking a fish to explain water. The world depicted in the film is for us parents to better understand and navigate. It provides a lot of perspectives that reiterate our own inklings and anxieties about screens. The most important thing you can do as a parent in the 21st century is to include your child in the conversation about his own tech and then enforce limits. You are still the parent and technology is a privilege that you can dole out, not a right.
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