Are We Raising Screenagers? 5 Tips for Regulating Your Teen’s Screen Time

By: Charisma Dougherty
Netflix’s release of the documentary The Social Dilemma has caused people to question the impact social media is having in the lives of adults and children. Although excessive social media use and screen time can stunt a child’s spiritual, academic, and social growth, we as parents have the power and tools necessary to educate and protect our children in this digital age. Join CCA’s Middle School Counselor Charisma Dougherty as she shares five practical ways parents can put healthy boundaries around their child(ren)’s screen time consumption.

Remember the days when we played outside with our neighborhood friends? We played games and rode our bikes until the street lights came on or our mother called us in for dinner. Ah, those were the days . . . 

Unfortunately, children in today’s culture are unlikely to have memories like these because playtime has been exchanged for screen time. Their memories are being influenced by TikTokers, their favorite YouTube influencer, and algorithms that are designed to manipulate user behavior.

Though much of the information that I am going to share with you may be alarming, there is hope. We have the power and tools necessary to educate and protect our children in this digital age. God chose you to raise and protect your child(ren); do not be afraid to lovingly assert your authority as their parent. By being informed, we can set them up for success and decrease the chances of artificial intelligence and algorithms programming their thinking and behavior.
We have the power and tools necessary to educate and protect our children in this digital age.

Social Media: Friend or Foe?

Just the other day, I had a friend ask me for counseling referrals for her daughter because her child expressed having suicidal thoughts. Her daughter stated that she was tired of seeing what was going on in the world regarding social injustice and believed that the world was such a horrible place; she is plagued with anxiety and believes she is depressed.

But where would a child get an ideology that is entirely contradictory to what her mother feels and teaches? The answer: social media.

According to the World Economic Forum, Generation Z uses social media three hours a day on average, which is almost an hour more than Millennials. And Pew Research Center reported that “although 81% of teens say social media helps them feel more connected to their friends, 45% still say they feel overwhelmed by ‘drama’ associated with it.”

In the case of my friend’s daughter, she admitted that she was continually inundated on her social media with issues regarding protests, the election, and people simply being mean and not understanding one another. This evoked fear and anger.

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” –Philippians 4:8

The more time our children spend on their screens, the greater the chance of becoming exposed to cyberbullying and sexploitation. This can lead to mental health issues including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, suicidal ideation, and self-harm. According to the CDC, between 2007 and 2018, the national suicide rate among persons ages 10–24 increased by 57.4%. This also happens to be the timeframe that cell phone usage became prevalent among teenagers.

Social media can also cause them to constantly compare themselves to celebrities/influencers and seek the approval of their peers. One negative comment on their post can lead to subsequent mocking statements that follow from other individuals. This can cause the child to question their self-worth and perhaps even compromise their morals for the sake of acceptance; more “likes” and followers equates to popularity and self-worth.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” –Ephesians 2:10

The Psych Behind The “Like”

There is a psychology behind these social platforms; “likes” and the refreshing of apps serve as a reward system to the brain. The desire and demand for more screen time are positively reinforced by the amount of likes, comments, and follow requests children receive, which is otherwise known as the pleasure principle.

As they use their devices, dopamine — the “feel good” neurotransmitter that plays a role in addiction — is released in the brain, which makes the need to be using a device feel uncontrollable. Have you ever tried pulling your son away from his gaming console or taking your daughter’s phone away? I have. They act like it is the end of the world and that they will die without it.

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.” –Matthew 6:24

Another drawback in the era of the “screenager” is that excessive screen time impedes on children’s social development. Our children are now establishing relationships — friendships and even romantic connections — through online gaming and followers on social media. They would rather text and express their feelings through the use of emojis than have an in-person conversation. According to a 2017 global study conducted by LivePerson, Inc., “a majority of Gen Z and Millennials (65%) communicate with each other more often digitally than in person.”

As a result of this reality, children are losing the ability to learn social cues through facial expressions and voice fluctuation. It is difficult for them to show their friend empathy when they’re so used to looking down at their phone instead of looking into people’s eyes. Emotional regulation and the development of coping skills also become hindered when they do not learn how to communicate and process their emotions face-to-face.

A Problem With Solutions

So how can we avoid raising a screenager? Here are five tips I recommend for regulating screen time in your household.

  1. Delay the Device

    When a child receives a phone is a parent’s personal decision, however, I recommend waiting until at least the end of your child’s eighth grade year. This not only provides them with an opportunity to mature, but it also protects their brains. Wait Until 8th studies have shown that the use of smartphones among youth significantly affects their academic performance. Not only does it serve as a distraction, but it also affects their cognitive development.

    Here at Calvary Christian Academy, middle school students are not permitted to use cell phones during the school day, and high school students are not permitted to use them in the classroom. This policy minimizes distraction and encourages academic, spiritual, and social growth.

  2. Adjust Screen Time Settings

    Most smartphones have screen time settings that will allow you as a parent to schedule downtime (times during the day when certain apps cannot be accessed) as well as time limits on apps. SMS (texting) and FaceTime communication can even be blocked. These healthy boundaries may aid in avoiding arguments and conflict with your child if you typically collect their phone before bedtime.

  3. Institute a Tech Timeout

    Sometimes, we just need a prolonged break from our screens. Consider instituting a no tech until after dinner or no tech in the car policy. In turn, more attention can be given to family conversation, responsibilities (e.g., homework and chores), and spending time with Jesus.

    In the book Get Out Of Your Head, Christian author Jennie Allen cautions us about the effects technology and other “pacifiers” can have in our lives:

    “There is an enemy and he is after something in your life and it is the truth. And I fear that we do not take [this] seriously enough . . . If I were your enemy, I would make you numb and distract you from God's story. I would use technology, social media, Netflix, travel, food, wine, comfort. And I wouldn't tempt you with notably bad things or you would get suspicious. I would distract you with everyday comforts that slowly feed you a different story and make you forget God.”

    As a family, everyone could resolve to put their phones away for the day and concentrate on household projects or doing outdoor activities together; it’s a blessing to live in beautiful South Florida! This type of quality time with your child will not only aid in building their communication and life skills, but also in creating meaningful memories.

  4. Beat Boredom

    When we ask our kids “Why are you on your phone all the time?”, their response is usually, “I’m bored!” As parents, we have an opportunity to redirect their attention to activities that will engage their minds and help them develop social and cognitive skills.

    If they are not currently involved in extracurricular activities at school such as clubs, sports, and fine arts, encourage them to explore these areas of interest that will in turn occupy their time and keep them away from the screen. At home, you can encourage reading, family activities (e.g., game night), and even quiet time.

    Contrary to popular belief, children don’t have to be constantly stimulated. In fact, boredom actually has its benefits! It’s in these quiet, still moments that we can hear from God most profoundly, like Elijah experienced.

    ‘He says, “Be still, and know that I am God…”’ –Psalm 46:10
  5. Avoid SMS Parenting

    The most impactful thing we can do is model favorable behavior. We need to talk to our children face-to-face instead of relying on texting as our primary form of communication.

    More importantly, we should evaluate our personal phone habits, as the effects of being glued to our devices can be harmful to our children. When we put down our devices, we’re able to be fully present and engage them with intentionality and undivided attention.
More importantly, we should evaluate our personal phone habits, as the effects of being glued to our devices can be harmful to our children.

As the saying goes, “the days are long, but the years are short.” Let us be the ones making lasting memories with our children and disciple them with patience when it comes to regulating screen time. Below are some questions you can ask your tween and/or tween to gauge how social media and phones have affected their life personally:

  • How do you communicate with your friends?
    (e.g., in-person, chat online, social media, text, phone call, FaceTime, etc.)

  • How do you feel when your friends do not respond to your texts or posts?

  • Do you ever feel vulnerable or anxious when using social media?

  • What do you think is the best way to communicate with me?


 

Charisma Dougherty has served as the Middle School Counselor at Calvary Christian Academy for three years. She has a background in psychology and mental health and is pursuing her Master's Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She is passionate about serving her students and their families. She and her husband have two children that attend CCA.
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  • Manuel Regueiro
    Thank you ,this is as an excellent article for parents like me. It is hard to imagine how these smartphones can easily become a tool for satan to manipulate our kids. I’ll implement some of your suggestions to beat boredom. Thanks and May The Lord Jesus bless you.

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