Win smartphone struggle
PARENTS have two simple choices when it comes to kids and electronic devices — set some boundaries, or do nothing and “take your chances”.
So says US-based social media expert, author and mother of a teenage girl Lisa Buyer.
“Parents of teens have it rough these days thanks to a new cocktail: Smartphones laced with social media apps,” she told the Sunday Mail. “The mix is so potent it can take over your teen’s life and so dangerous it can literally open the door to stalkers. (Unfortunately), as the first generation of parents with teens who have grown up with social media, there’s not any historical data or advice to help guide us.”
The University of Florida associate professor says as hard as it is, parents must step up and set some rules — even if that means confiscating a device from time to time.
“The social media and smartphone struggle is real and everyone needs help ... we all seem to recognise the problem but the path to solutions is not easy,” she says.
Prof Buyer has spoken to the Sunday Mail on the back of News Corp’s Pulse of Australia online survey, showing two-thirds of parents have some level of concern over the amount of time their children spend on digital devices.
Concern is highest among parents of teenagers with 82 per cent reporting some level of concern over their teens’ screen usage and 23 per cent being “extremely concerned”.
One mum of a pre-teen child who responded to the survey told how her child had lost interest in everything “other than the tablet” – “crying and fighting when told to finish up”.
Sadly, says Prof Buyer, this isn’t unusual and she took her own 15-year-old daughter’s phone from her for a week, frustrated it was becoming all-consuming.
“(It was) the most crippling thing a teen could ever imagine ... it was not easy but the benefits were amazing,” she said. “(On day seven) we watched movies, hung out together and went to the beach. That night she handed me a three-page letter telling me what a great weekend she had with me and I loved hearing all the stories.”
Glenelg-based Stay Active Children’s Sports Programs managing director Carly Fuda agrees, saying it’s important families routinely include “screen-free time” as part of their lives. “Set boundaries for screen time while in the home and rules for use in shared spaces only (not bedrooms),” she says. “Communicating with children over meals will allow parents to find out what activities they enjoy doing and perhaps plan an outdoor activity for the weekend.”
According to the survey, the most common rules parents do set for their teenagers are around not talking to or “friending” people they don’t know (58 per cent) and not using their devices at specific times, such as meals and bedtime (49 per cent).
Prof Buyer suggests parental-control apps can also be useful. “I have found the OurPact app to be very good because you can block apps, allocate data time per app and also have a schedule of when apps are available and not,” she said. “For example I shut down all apps on my daughter’s phone at 10pm otherwise she is up all night.”