Do You Hate Screen Time?

Okay. Lately, I’m getting good at saying things that people completely disagree with, like screen time isn’t bad.

And, I think in today’s world, I have a bad habit of fighting one extreme with another extreme.

So today, I’m going to try to be more intentionally neutral, and I’m going to share 5 Things We’re Getting WRONG About Teen Screen Time and next week I’ll share 5 Things We’re Getting RIGHT About Teen Screen Time.

Isn’t Screen Time Bad?

First off, I feel like a lot of parents have just adopted the narrative that “Screen Time for Teens is BAD”, without really questioning that belief.

On top of that, most parents seem to think screen time is bad for teens and children, and I think most would admit that they think it is bad for adults too, yet parents are increasingly guilty of spending more and more time on their screens.

Parents have told me that they believe screen time rots their teens brains. Just the other day, I saw an ad on Facebook of an egg being fried, similar to the “This is your brain on drugs” campaign, but it said, “This is what screen time is doing to your teen’s brain.”

When parents think about screen time, they automatically think of it with a negative bias.

So I want to ask you, and please try to answer before you have time to think about it. Just, out loud, say the first thing that comes to your mind when I ask you, . . .

. . . Is screen time bad?

If you’re like most parents, you probably just answered, “Yes”.

Well, the truth is, screen time isn’t good or bad. It’s what you and your teen make of it. It’s neutral.

It can be, and has been, used for really amazing good purposes. It also can be, and has been, used for really disturbingly bad purposes.

Now answer these questions, . . .

. . . Is screen time a VILLAIN in your life?

And, if YES, Who’s the victim in that story?

What I Think We’re Getting Wrong

Aside from hopefully empowering you to see screen time as neutral, and at YOUR mercy, instead of seeing it as the villain, and you being at its mercy, I also want to show you some of the things that I believe most parents get wrong when it comes to screen time.

It’s not my goal to tell you how to think. So, please feel free to disagree. I’m sharing my thoughts and opinions to hopefully help you to form your own thoughts and opinions.

#1 Complete Elimination

One of the things I think we’re doing wrong as parents, and I’ll be honest with you, I’ve fallen into this trap, and I still fall into this trap from time to time is Complete Elimination.

Once, several years ago, we had some friends that completely took screens and electronics away from their teens. They talked about how much it improved every aspect of their home. Their teens were better behaved, more obedient, and their home was a little slice of heaving after ditching electronics.

Sounds great, right?

Wrong. We tried it in our home and it was miserable.

My teens hated it, my little kids hated it, and my wife and I hated it, plus we felt super guilty when we would indulge in screen time.

If you’re like I used to be, or like tons of parents, you might be tempted to completely take away your teen’s screen time. A lot of parents want to do this because of their teen’s lack of balance when it comes to screens.

The problem is, you’re fighting the problem, “Being out of balance” with the exact same problem of no balance.

I’m not saying that complete elimination is never and option. I’m just saying it shouldn’t be the only option or the go-to option

#2 The Go-To Punishment

Again, this is a trap that I’ve fallen into and that I still fall into from time to time to time.

Using your teen’s screen time for punishment can be a problem because it uses one of their values against them, which might lead to them over valuing their screen time.

Plus, focusing only on punishment means that you’re missing the opposite side of that equation, rewards.

I would also caution against using screen time as the go-to reward either. Again, it could lead to your teen over-valuing screen time.

Instead, I would recommend that you use screen time as an opportunity to have a conversation with your teen about proper expectations, boundaries, and consequences (both +/-) when it comes to screen time.

#3 The Data is Fear Based

Okay, this one might be a little unpopular. That’s okay. Take it or leave it.

The data is new, biased, and skewed towards a fearful narrative. We only really hear about the negative impact of screen time.

When I was a principal, I went to a suicide prevention conference. Most of the presentations had scary statistics talking about the correlation between teen suicide and screen time and social media. It was alarming. I then when to a breakout session with an expert on data and analytics. He went off script and started telling us that statistically speaking, most kids are perfectly fine with lots of screen time in their lives, and that the numbers suggesting that teens should have less than 1-2 hours of screen time are actually based on a small minority of teens who had a correlation with screen time and suicide.

Anyway, rather than relying on data that is out of touch, and I’m sorry to say it, fear driven, look at data from your own home.

I can see a change in my teens’, and my younger kids’, behaviors when they have too much screen time, especially when it’s too late or too early. Rather than making my decisions when it comes to screen time based on scary data spouted off on some random podcast, (I know, I’m a random podcast too), I want to make decisions based on our unique needs.

#4 Disempowering Your Teen

Okay, by now we all know that I’m on a Teen Empowerment kick.

One of the things that I believe parents are getting wrong when it comes to screen time is disempowering their teens.

This might look like, taking their screen time away without even discussing it or giving them a chance to come up with solutions.

It might look like you dictating how they use their screen time without having a voice. Maybe it looks like shielding them from experiencing consequences of poor choices. It might look like not giving them opportunities to learn in the safety of your own home how to come up with a balance that works for them when it comes to screen time.

Here’s an example of how I try to empower my teens when it comes to screen time.

I usually let my teens sleep with their phones. I know that is a huge “NO NO” for some parents, but it works for us. Rather than controlling and limiting their screen time, we’ve set up expectations and consequences around completing real life things. Both of my teens get up early and go to sports things like weights, early morning basketball, practice, etc. I give them the responsibility of being off of their phones at night so they can get enough sleep to be able to get up in the morning.

My teens have had to suffer the consequences of sleeping in and missing practice because they were up to late on a screen and were tired. Letting them suffer the consequence is empowering to them.

#5 Villainizing Screens and Victimizing Teens

I’ve seen this a lot with parents and teens. The parent villainizes screen time, paints screens as a big scary monster, and positions the teen as the victim.

This is disempowering to your teen, and it perpetuates the victim mindset.

Screens are not the villain. They are not out to ruin, or addict, your teen. Screens are here to serve a purpose.

Rather than being at the mercy of their screens, we need to teach our teens how to be the masters of their screens. How to make their screens work for them instead of teaching our teens to work for their screens.

BONUS Unintentional Herd Mentality

Most humans like to think like the herd. The problem is, this makes it really hard to think for yourself.

Don’t simply adopt your neighbor’s screen time policy. Don’t simply make a knee jerk reaction based on scary statistics.

Instead, learn to evaluate and think for yourself.

Develop your own opinion, even if it’s different from mine.

Step 1 – Go take the parent trap quiz!

It’s free, easy, and will take you less than 3 minutes.

Step 2 – Use your quiz results to focus your energy on growing in the area indicated by your quiz results.

Step 3- Come work with me to help you up level your parenting!

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