When our children entered the world, the smartphone boom was just beginning.
As they grew, we felt inept at finding the right balance between allowing our children to learn from and enjoy these technological advancements, while also managing appropriate screen time and negative impact on their psyche.
The older they became, the more this battle further compounded the stress we carry. I know we’re not alone.
In my search for help, I came across countless articles, blogs, and groups available for parents seeking advice, tips, and lessons learned. While we welcomed this shared camaraderie, it did not fully prepare us for what hit our eldest as a teenager.
We can all attest the teen years are tough, even brutal perhaps.
What we did not expect is how early this starts and how much technology plays a role in our children’s mental health.
In the course of one school year, we watched our once outgoing, bubbly, social butterfly of a child withdraw, become self-conscious, end once-valued friendships, and ultimately develop crippling social anxiety.
The root cause? Technology use.
As a society, many of us are addicted to our phones. Even adults struggle with how much time we spend staring at a screen. It’s no wonder our children, who lack the brain maturity to fully understand future consequences, seem unable to self-regulate.
Texting, FaceTime, social media, etc. all create a constant awareness and judgment around anything and everything our kids are doing.
For our child, this led to an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy. Our child felt the easiest way to avoid these feelings was to withdraw and avoid all social interactions. To hide.
After meeting with the school counselor, we felt it was time to dramatically pull back on technology use in our home.
Enter COVID-19 quarantine.
In a matter of days, we went from collaborating on ways to work through the feelings of social anxiety to “it’s not safe to leave your house.” Two steps forward, followed by ten steps back.
Technology became our child’s only lifeline to friends, teachers, and family. We were panic-stricken. How could we continue making progress, but reintroduce technology in a way that is helpful?
Here’s a brief summary of what we tried in our home:
(IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This is not professional medical advice. Please seek professional guidance if you feel you or your child suffers from a mental illness):
- Limit phone time
- Withhold phone and laptop for certain periods throughout the day
- Have children turn in phones at the end of the day
- Lock devices away overnight
- Limit/remove phone apps
- Monitor conversations & usage within apps
- Monitor Safari usage and search history
- Encourage inter-personal (socially-distant) interactions
- Schedule open, family discussions on feelings, thoughts, and fears
- Include grandparents, cousins, and friends in group conversations when possible/appropriate
- Meet with a school counselor
- Have discussions with other parents
- Coordinate with a professional therapist
This summer was riddled with challenges, arguments, and debates over appropriate technology limitations, but it also led to a greater awareness of how our children spend their time, improved behavior after periods without technology, enjoyable interactions between siblings, and enhanced our overall family time. All have been blessings in disguise for our family.
Now, we’re entering into a virtual learning environment, further ramping up the need for technology to remain connected.
What the future will bring, none of us can know. What we are acknowledging: this journey is still very much a work in progress.
Looking back, there were many small steps I wish we had implemented sooner. Again, I am not a medical professional and you should seek professional counsel if you feel your child is struggling with a mental illness. Here are a few additional things we’ve learned along the way that may provide food for thought for you:
- Limiting time on devices is not enough; you must also monitor activity on apps and platforms you allow your child to use.
- Open conversations are critical in establishing trust. Be sure you’re listening. We tend to talk a lot during these situations, which can often come across as judgmental or dismissive to a child/teenager.
- Your child might not like you. Be ready. Know its okay. Hold your ground, remain calm, and reinforce your desire to help.
- MANY other parents are struggling in similar fashions. Reach out and support each other.
- Your child is not you. He/She has his/her own journey. What may work for you, may not work for him/her. Be open to alternative treatment plans.
- Most importantly, ask for help.
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