Screen time and teens: How you can help

Is your teen spending too much time using technology? If you worry about your teen’s use of devices, you are not alone. A report by Common Sense Media indicates half of all young people feel they are addicted to their devices. Almost 60 percent of adults think their kids are addicted too, and a third of parents and teens say that they argue daily about screen time.

With today’s teenagers never knowing a world without the Internet, many struggle to use technology in a way that is healthy. “Our society is moving so quickly with technology that kids now have access to a very large social world that they may not have the maturity to navigate,” explains Ken DeBlock, Shelterwood Academy’s Director of Substance Abuse and Recovery. Learn more about technology addiction, why there is such a rise in the “screen time” challenge and how you can help your teen.

Technology addiction, defined

Ken characterizes addiction as someone engaging in behavior that is repetitive, and the person has lost control over that repetitive behavior. “So a teen might say, ‘I am just going to play games for one hour today,’ and then end up playing five hours every day of the week,” he explains. “It is okay to have a routine, but when you try to change that routine and find yourself unable to do so, that trends more toward an addiction than a routine.”

Technology addiction includes a wide range of behaviors and devices — video games, social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, television and video streaming and so much more. “We only have so many resources — including time, money and energy — and as something becomes addictive in your life, you put more time, money and energy into that thing,” Ken says. “For example, a teen may have been a straight A student and is now receiving Ds because they do not have the time or energy to invest in their schoolwork anymore.”

Why is technology addiction a growing problem for teens?

Not only are video games and online platforms marketed well to teens, Ken points to how they have evolved. Video games used to be designed around completing levels to win the game — think about games like Mario Cart — with the option to pause, save the game and come back to it another day.

“Over time, games and platforms have become more about rewards based on length of time you play. You build an online profile or online world, and your character gains access to bigger and better things based on how long you play . . . it is a cycle: the more someone plays or participates, the more they earn.”

Another feature in today’s games and social platforms is the focus on community. “It is a fundamental principle that people need connection,” Ken says. “Yet these devices provide a very different type of connection. Connection to other people is not through personal experiences, but through this online resource. This makes it easier for teens to project who they want to be and how they want to feel. There are many more opportunities to be inauthentic. These platforms center on a controlled environment that is easier to dictate than actual life.”

Another contributing factor to the rise of technology addiction is how ubiquitous technology is today. “This technology is just so prevalent in society. You can’t walk down the street and not see someone on their cell phone,” Ken says. “We have been constantly conditioned to look at these phones that we all carry in our pockets. Even if you take a day to turn off your own phone, you still hear other people’s chimes and buzzers. Even during class, if a teen has a phone in their pocket, the buzzer goes off. This is classic conditioning.”

How to tell if your teen is addicted — and how to help

One key sign that your teen may have an unhealthy relationship with technology is withdrawal from people and activities that used to bring joy. “Your teen does not hang out with friends anymore, does not go to church anymore, no longer enjoys extracurricular activities,” Ken says.

“When you talk about limiting technology and social media, how does your teen respond? Are they open to the conversation, or do they respond in a way that is argumentative?”

Another sign your teen may be struggling is secrecy surrounding technology use. It is important to differentiate privacy and secrecy, Ken says. “Privacy is healthy as a teenager grows up and matures, but secrecy is different. Do they hide their technology use from you?”

Helping your teen starts with healthy communication. Share your concerns openly, but with lots of empathy. “We’ve all fallen into the technology trap at some point. Your teen is not alone in this.” Guide your teen in setting up a structured plan for technology use, including a break from technology before bed to ensure healthy sleep. Make sure your teen has pathways for healthy recreational activities as well. Encourage your teen to participate in extracurricular activities and facilitate those options at home as well.

At Shelterwood, teens learn healthy social skills with no cell phones allowed on campus. They practice living a healthy lifestyle, including classes, counseling and fun technology-free activities. “We allow teens to practice healthy recreation with opportunities to swim in the pool, go for hikes, play in our soccer and basketball leagues and just enjoy being in community with others.”

Are you worried about your teen’s use of technology and the Internet? Take the first step toward restoration for your teen. Reach out to our admissions team today: 866.585.8939.

Show your gratitude during Shelterwood’s Week of Thanks

At Shelterwood, everything we do is focused on real hope, real heart change and real restoration for families. Every day, new stories of transformation are written on our campus. Our families and graduates continue to tell us why they are so thankful for the impact of Shelterwood — and now, you are invited to share why YOU are thankful.

April 20 – 28, 2017, is our second Shelterwood Week of Thanks. Please join us in sharing why YOU give thanks for Shelterwood. It is easy to show your gratitude — and to help spread the word about the real hope and real restoration that teens and families find at Shelterwood.

How to participate:

Shelterwood 3Step 791x1024 Show your gratitude during Shelterwood’s Week of Thanks

Download the Shelterwood Week of Thanks page here. In need of inspiration? Explore how just a few of our staff, students, graduates and families expressed their gratitude during our first Shelterwood Week of Thanks.

SW WeekOfThanksCollage 1024x379 Show your gratitude during Shelterwood’s Week of Thanks

When you share your own gratitude, other families see the real transformation that can happen at Shelterwood. Please join us in our Week of Thanks and share the impact Shelterwood has made for you. Post your picture to the Shelterwood Facebook page, April 20 – 28.

Sometimes Social Media is not very Social

The Lonely Side of Social Media

As a parent of older teens, I do my best to stay current with today’s social media sites and apps. The best I can manage these days is Twitter and Facebook, which is now, according to my teens, a site for “old people.”   I guess I can’t argue with them when I see my mom posting things to their pages and signing off with, “Love, Grandma.” To be sure, it’s the modern day equivalent to pinching their cheeks in public. Grandmas can somehow get away with it…parents, on the other hand, cannot.

parents at computer 300x169 Sometimes Social Media is not very Social
Sometimes social media is not very social

As I browse through my news feed, I see my friends with younger children post pictures of cute shenanigans or share amusing things their kids say or do. I am not allowed to do that….EVER! Every time I take a picture of my teens, the first words they say are, “You’d better not post that to Facebook!” So, I am left to experience all of the joys, triumphs and failures of raising teens alone. My kids are doing some really cool things, saying things that make me laugh out loud and daily impressing me with their ability to navigate tough waters. But I cannot share this and I am coming to see why. They are people who have rights to their own lives. Of course, it was nice when they were little and we could choose their clothes, their food and sometimes even their friends. Not so anymore, and that’s a good place to be. But, it’s a lonely place to be. So, Moms and Dads, take heart in knowing that there is a huge population of us parents of older teens out there who feel the same way. You are not alone! I encourage you to treasure these days as much as you did when they were little by keeping a private ‘Facebook’ in a journal that you can give them someday when they need to be celebrated.

What can we do about Sexting?

Mom and Dad, it is time for the sext talk.  No, not for your kids but for you.

The desire for risk-taking and sexual exploration during the teenage years combined with a constant connection through mobile devices creates a ‘perfect storm’ for sexting. While you have been learning how to become friends and post pictures on Facebook your kids have moved on to quicker, more stimulating activities.  Not only are they sending pictures through text, but they are also saving costs and branching out to using free apps such as Vine, SnapChat, Instagram, myLIFE, Meetup, KIK and ASK.fm.Screen Shot 2014 12 15 at 4.51.12 PM 300x184 What can we do about Sexting?

Already in 2010, the Pew Research Center was finding that 31 percent of 18-to-29 year olds had received a nude photo or video on their cell phones.  Other research has found similar results and it appears that there is no difference between genders. And if you were hoping that this practice is limited to consenting adults, then the research might surprise you.  It suggests that 15% of cell-owning teens ages 12-17 have received nude images or videos of someone they know through text messages.

Sexually suggestive images have become a form of relationship currency as images are shared as a part of or instead of sexual activity, or as a way of starting or maintaining a relationship. Pictures are also passed along to friends for their entertainment value, as a joke or for fun or as a form of bullying.

Screen Shot 2014 12 15 at 4.50.34 PM 300x228 What can we do about Sexting?As parents we should appreciate that texting is also part of the wooing process today and much of what is done on a smart phone, while fringing on inappropriate, is to be expected. Often the banter online is purely the ramblings of insecure adolescents experimenting with various identities in hopes that they might connect with the opposite sex.  As you watch their conversations unfold over Twitter or other mediums, take a deep breath and remember what it was like in the locker rooms of your high school back in the 70’ and 80’s.  And be thankful that your parents didn’t hear you boasting of sexual exploits that never really occurred.  So this becomes the dilemma for parents as we try to determine what is real and dangerous versus what is false and might be a demonstration of insecurity.

Sadly, this line between actual sexual promiscuity and unwanted sexual advances is slight and easily crossed.  It has become so tempting for teens to walk over the line or be pushed over the line of safety into a world that has long-term consequences. Teens often describe the pressure they feel to share these types of images.  One high school girl shared: “When I was about 14 years old, I received & sent these types of pictures. Boys would usually ask for them or start that type of conversation.  I felt like if I didn’t do it, they wouldn’t continue to talk to me.  At the time, it was no big deal. But now looking back it was definitely inappropriate and over the line.”

Our kids’ ‘coming-of-age’ mistakes and transgressions have never been so easily transmitted and archived for others to see for a lifetime. And yet simply turning off the phone does not seem like an option, as it has become the centerpiece of a teen’s social life and an important conduit for communication between parent and child.

So how do we help our kids manage this necessary but risky device?

Research suggests that the most effective way to limit sexting is to limit the minutes or data that is allowed on their phone. Limiting the number of texts or other messages that a teen can send helps reduce the chances that they will spend their precious data on sexy images. In fact, only 8% of teens with texting restrictions send sexy messages as opposed to an average of 28% of teens that manage their phone without restrictions. Restrictions are best accomplished through the rules of the home as many companies now offer free texting apps.  Parents can ask their kids to hand in their devices at certain times of the day or have ‘phone-free’ evenings during the week.  Any practice that parents can employ that reduces the frequency and intensity of cell use will reduce the chances that their child will send or receive sexually charged material.

In the end, parents will need to continue to adjust, setting boundaries early with their children and explaining that a phone will only be allowed if appropriate behavior is practiced and random checks respected. While checking in might feel like a violation of trust, it is important to remember that we all need boundaries in our lives.  And if your kids know that you will be checking school attendance and completion of chores, then it stands to reason that you will check their online activities as well.

Eventually their online persona will be theirs to manage, but while they are still at home -help them. Just knowing that my wife might check my search history on my computer helps me when I am tempted to visit inappropriate sites and it is no different for your kids and their online behavior.

Follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Instagram and ask to check their phone periodically.  Knowing that their parents are watching will help them reign in their risky behavior.  If these checks are routine when they are young you are better able to provide guidance when the mistakes are small and you will also have a better chance of discussing what has been written when they are older.

What is the impact of social media on your teen?

Screen Shot 2015 06 02 at 1.08.52 PM 300x195 What is the impact of social media on your teen?These days, being a celebrity can be as simple as doing your job. For Alex, a Texas High School student who works at Target, this couldn’t be any more apparent. You see, Alex works at Target as a cashier and one day a girl who is known as, ‘Rim’ on Twitter, tweeted a photo of Alex bagging her groceries. Now, that tweet has been shared nearly a million times and Alex has more than half a million followers. He has been tweeted by Target and Google, and even has even been contacted to be on the Ellen Show. Throughout the day, #Alexfromtarget has been the top trending post on Twitter. And, all Alex had to do was do his job and be found to look somewhat like Justin Bieber by teenage twitter users.

What’s interesting is that this celebrity-making phenomenon is by no means new to Alex’s story. Social Media has been the creator of many pseudo-celebrities. There have been many scientific studies published in the last few years about the social phenomenon of celebrity-making social media sites. Social media users create their own reality. They become mini celebrities in an entirely me based reality. From research topics that show how ‘selfies’ breed narcissism to entire Facebook photo albums staged to look like the user is on an exotic vacation, social scientists have considered it all. In the last year I have read positive reviews of Facebook being a help in overcoming drug addiction to negative reviews of Facebook fueling cyber bullying.

So, where does your teen fall in the midst of this social media debate? Perhaps your son or daughter has been involved in some painful cyber bullying either as a victim or an aggressor. Or, maybe your teen simply loves posting selfies. Either way, it’s important to open a discussion about what social media means. Often, it is difficult to put boundaries on social media usage, especially when it gets out of hand. But, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Open up discussions with your teen about how social media has affected them and what they use it for.

While we may just shake our head at the silliness of nearly a million people retweeting a picture of a teenager doing his job, we cannot ignore that this is a huge part of our teenagers’ lives. Invite your teenager to discuss the impact of social media with you. It’ll give you a different perspective into their lives and maybe, just maybe, help you understand why #alexfromtarget is such a big deal.