Time out from screen time

How to help your children navigate healthy tech habits—when devices are ubiquitous 

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We are inextricably linked to our devices.  We learn with them, socialize with them, communicate with them, play games through them, and use them to stay up-to-date on the world.  Having grown up with technology, children are "digital natives," whose lives are practically fused between the digital and IRL (in real life) worlds. 

At JCFS Response for Teens, we help parents recognize that growing up is still growing up. Young people still pay attention to shopping, music, their friends, movies, and schoolwork- even through much of this may happen in digital spaces.

There can be some benefits when children engage in the online world.  They can:

  • -Connect with family and friends (out of town grandparents, for example!)
  • -Learn technical skills (Minecraft, anyone?)
  • -Learn about the world
  • -Create and share music and other personal expression (TikTok)
  • -Become politically engaged
  • -Find community
  • -Access research and new ideas

But some parents are rightly concerned about their children's tether to their smartphone.

If your children are young, you have some choices about when to allow your child to have an electronic device, their own phone, and access to social media. You can establish healthy parameters at all of these decision points, such as keeping your child's devices at night, always having access to their passcodes, and setting up usage limits. There are several fantastic resources to help you navigate your child's digital use.

If these genies are already out of the bottle for your teenagers, there are still some things you can do.

All of your parenting is out of your love and caring ( chesed ) for your children. 

When you place parameters on social media use, or time limits on digital devices, you are placing boundaries that they don't have the ability to set.  Children and teens need these restrictions so they can have time for a healthy platter of other activities:  time outside, movement, healthy meals, family get-togethers, good sleep.

You also express chesed when you listen and talk to your child.  Learn about their online world-the games they play, the apps they use, even who's being mean online.

Talk about staying safe online:  " There are some things that it's best not to share online with others, can you think what some of those might be?" The qualities of healthy and unhealthy relationships are present online as they are in person. Make sure your children know that unkindness and controlling behaviors-even through a screen-are not signs of love.

Children and teens are developing their ability to understand and manage their behavior and how they react to things happening around them.  On social media, emotions can run hot, with little opportunity for pause or reflection. Chesed is an important value to impart for their online engagement and how they are treating people online is just as vital.

The majority of parents believe they are good media-use role models for their kids but two thirds of kids think their parents are on their devices too much and 38 percent of teens feel their parent is addicted to their mobile device. 

Parents who want their children to be fully present must model that same behavior ( dugmah ishit )-while driving, eating meals, or "watching" your child's game or performance.  Assess your own digital activity and consider if you are behaving in the ways that you want to see in your kids.

You can use social media to reinforce the value of kavod , or respect.  When talking with your children about their social media use, ask them about their own values and how the value of respect guides their decisions. Talk about identifying which conversations are better suited for in-person interactions, and which ones can be handled online.

One more way to find balance in your family and maintain shalom bayit , peace in the home, by developing a family contract around social media usage. When all members of the family come to mutual decisions, it can be easier to maintain accountability.  

Sara L. Manewith is the Director of JCFS Response for Teens.

"If these genies are already out of the bottle for your teenagers, there are still some things you can do.  "


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