Yesterday, whilst doing the weekly shop I bumped into a mum I know. She has two teenagers aged 12 and 14. I asked her how her half term was and her reply broke my heart. She said it was hard. Really hard. She told me that neither of them wanted to do anything. Her son, the 14 year old, was only interested in playing online games, and her daughter tried to meet up with friends but none of them replied to her messages. She told me she wished they were younger, that this age for her is the hardest yet.
I believe her half term experience is a common one; parents desperate to get their kids out and about and enjoying themselves, and feeling like a failure when their kids refuse.
This generation of teenagers sometimes known as Generation Z or iGen are addicted to their phones. We know it and they know it. So how do we as parents and adults who work with teens help them to put down the phone and enjoy their school holidays?
Here’s some advice and tips I’d offer this mum, and other parents out there in similar situations;
Don't be afraid to impose some rules about screen-time even if no other parent is doing it. From talking to many parents of teens they all say this is a really tough one as they don't want their child to be the only one to have these rules. It’s interesting that everyone is saying this and yet no one wants to be the first parent to only allow 1 hour of screen time a day. What would happen if we ALL did this? Wouldn't it be amazing if this became the norm? Do it, and tell the other parents you are doing it and you might well start a trend. Don't forget, there are many apps available that help control how much time they can spend online.
Set some ‘date’ times with each teen. Talk to them about what they would like to do; perhaps it might be to go for a coffee and cake, dinner, a film. Carving out some one-to-one time with them is so important and whilst they may roll their eyes at you and say they don't want to do it, they will be glad you made the effort. Just make sure that phones are left in bags-yours included!
Encourage your daughter who is messaging friends and getting no replies to call them to arrange a time to meet. There are so many reasons why people don't reply to messages, and sitting and worrying about this is a waste of time at best, anxiety-inducing at worst. Electronic communication is linked to poor mental health whereas interacting in person is linked to good mental health. As yet we don't really know the effects that electronic communication is having on our kids’ budding social skills, however we do know that nothing can replace face-to-face interaction. So gently encourage your daughter to call up her friends and meet them in person for a catch up.
Encourage your daughter to journal about some of the feelings and worries she has around her relationships. It has been proven that ‘effective journaling can result in many positive outcomes and improvements to your quality of life’. Getting your daughter (and son-he can join in too!) into the habit of effective journaling will be equipping her with a life skill that will boost her mood, enhance her sense of well-being, reduce symptoms of depression before an important event (like an exam), and so much more.
Encourage them to exercise. Ah those endorphins! I almost never feel like going to the gym but whenever I do I always leave feeling on top of the world. And we all know that exercise is one of the most effective way to feel more energised and less anxious. I would always advise that you model behaviour for your kids. In this case that means getting out there and exercising too!
If your teens are into violent/fighting gaming then sign them up to a Martial Arts class where they will learn the skill of these ancient forms of fight sports in real life. There are so many benefits to training including increasing self-discipline and boosting confidence, physical fitness, and meeting new friends. They will also learn that fighting is not always gratuitous and bloody; it’s about showing up and training hard, respecting your teachers and training partners, learning skills and tactics. Plus it’s really good fun and you never know-they might just prefer it to playing online!
Do you have any other tips to share? Please add them in the comments below.