September 17, 2019 - 8:33am --

The fair is over and fall activities are upon us with sights, sounds and flavors of the season.  After walking around the fairgrounds last week, this topic appeared in my e-mail and I thought it might be of interest to many of you. 

In a 2016 survey by Common Sense Media of about 1,800 parents, about 56% of them indicated that they are concerned that their children may become addicted to technology.  In the same survey, researchers found that parents spend more than 9 hours a day in front of screen (phones, tablets, and computers).  The survey also revealed that despite the huge amount of time we spend online, 78% of all parents believe they are good role models for their children.  The following information from the Gottman Institute gives some thoughts for you to consider with your family.

A dilemma for parents nowadays is how to be those good Emotion Coaches to our kids regarding their use of technology, which influence so many parts of their lives. And even though our teens are separating from us in many ways, it is essential that we continue to stay engaged with them in order for them to grow into the adults we want them to be. For families who have opened the door to smartphones and laptops, that engagement means getting involved with what they are doing online.

In a 2015 survey of more than 10,000 North American parents, researcher Alexandra Samuel found there to be three types of digital parents, each with its own distinct attitude towards technology.

1. The Enablers
These parents allow their teens to make their own decisions regarding screen time and access to devices.

2. The Limiters
These parents take every opportunity to switch off screens.

3. The Digital Mentors
These parents are more likely to talk with their kids about how to use technology or the internet responsibly, and are more likely to connect with their kids through technology. They are paying attention to what their teens are interested in online and are finding ways to connect with them there and guide them on responsible use.

Samuel’s research suggests that children of limiters are actually the most likely to engage in problematic behaviors online, such as accessing porn or chatting with strangers, probably because they haven’t been helped to have healthy habits.

In other research, it appears that children of enablers can develop a whole host of problems too, ranging from lack of ability to focus to decrease in empathy for others.

So, it seems that being a digital mentor parent mirrors what we’ve known for some time from the Emotion Coaching literature: by being interested in what our teens are into online, validating, not automatically reacting, getting their input and setting limits where needed, we can actively shape our kids’ online skills and experiences. Just like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, we are neither too strict, nor too loose, we can be “just right.”

Here are some ways you might be able to pick your battles, and be an Emotion Coach in the digital age.

Negotiate rules
Remember our job description has changed from manager to consultant, which means that we need to listen, accept our teen’s individuality, and be open to some negotiation on rules regarding tech use.

Keep a positive perspective
Try to keep an overall positive perspective in your relationship with your teen. Research shows that in good relationships, the majority of interactions need to be positive, even when difficulties arise.

Soothe yourself
When problems escalate with your teen, be the parent! This means actively trying to calm yourself by taking a break and focusing on something else for a while.

Soften your start-up
Since teenagers can be masters of deflecting and turning around an argument, try and use good communication skills to ensure that your concerns are more likely to be heard. Use a soft start-up like, “I’m concerned about your screen time. When can we have a conversation about it?” instead of “You always have your phone out at dinner.” Avoid ridiculing or minimizing their viewpoint. This will only harm your overall relationship with your teen, even if you do “win” the argument.

Have a “Tech Talk”
Delaney Ruston, creator of Screenagers, recommends that families have frequent, short calm discussions about tech in a non-confrontational way. She calls it “Tech Talk Tuesday.” This makes room for intentional conversations where all points of view can be heard. It’s a great way to both keep the conversation calm and keep connected with your kids in a positive way.

Melinda Hill is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722.

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