Dear Dr. Michelle:
I am looking for advice on how to handle my 15-year-old son who is on his phone or computer all the time. He is a good student, he has friends, and he is a great kid that doesn’t get into trouble, so I’m not worried about any one thing in particular. From what I see and what he says, he is online with his friends playing games and watching YouTube videos. It just seems like he should not be on his computer as much as he is, am I right?
I am glad you reached out; you are not alone with the dilemma of how to manage screen time. We live in a technologically driven world.
How much is too much is based on individual preference and perception. Try to decide what works best for your family and evaluate your personal comfort level. If your concern is growing and your comfort level is decreasing, then I recommend you listen to your parental instinct and evaluate what gives you concern.
Try to keep the reality of technology in perspective. The truth is technology is here to stay and our reliance and need to utilize technology will most likely increase. Screen time is tied to almost every aspect of our lives, so much so that having strong technological skills has become necessary for teens and adults alike to be successful in school and in the workplace. The ability to learn how to navigate technology is now considered a basic skill that needs to be developed. Spending time on an electronic device, a computer, and even “gaming” is how these vital skills are developed. But this does not mean you throw caution to the wind and forego enforcing limits or having clear expectations around technology use.
Establishing Family Expectations
As you think about your expectations, let me suggest that limits on screen time be about your desire to help your son be well rounded; meaning, try to ensure that he is developing basic skills in multiple areas of his life, technology being just one. So instead of choosing “hours of screen time” as your criteria to set limits, you could decide to allow screen time after your son has first completed or engaged in other meaningful activities.
Start by listing the basic expectations you have for your son and then only allow screen time after those basic expectations have been met. Basic expectations could include such things as finishing chores, completing homework or taking care of pets for example. Then, expand that list to other extracurricular activities that you would like your son to be involved in. These could include daily exercise, engaging in sports, working on a hobby, spending time with family and friends that doesn’t involve technology, daily reading, practicing a musical instrument, or doing something spiritual if applicable. By identifying activities in which you want your son to be exposed, you can then expect so many certain activities to happen on a daily or every other day basis before he engages in screen time.
Tips for Developing A Balanced Approach to Technology Use
- Have a daily cut off time in the evening where use of technology is over.
- Do not allow the use of technology to be combined with other activities that don’t require it, such as eating.
- For concerns about content he may be viewing, do a regular check-in and ask your son to show you some of the websites he visits or the games and videos he is watching. Also, make sure you have installed internet parental controls. Two of the more common and mainstream options are from ESET and Norton.
Finally, have your son get engaged in the discussion about expectations and limits; he is certainly old enough to have an opinion and to participate in taking responsibility for monitoring his use. The key is to make sure your son is building other skill sets in addition to his technology abilities.
Dear Dr. Michelle blog posts are informational in nature. The posts are not meant to take the place of consulting your physician, mental health professional, or other qualified health providers regarding your well-being or the well-being of others. Submitting a question does not establish a client/therapist relationship.
Submit Your Question on mental health and/or family relations to Dr. Michelle K. Murray.