Happy Friday all! As promised, here’s a quick recap of last night’s event with Common Sense Media on tweens, teens, and technology and the effects it’s having on their developing brains. I learned so much participating on the panel alongside Dr. Mike Robb & Dr. Pat Kuhl and hearing from parents and educators who attended. I think we are all feeling a lot of anguish and overwhelm when it comes to deciding how much time we let our children use devices, what types of content we let them access, when they should have a smartphone, digital peer pressure, the list goes on and on. My goal for this post is to aggregate the best takeaways and tips that were shared last night in the hopes that it brings you some clarity and actionable steps to set your family up for digital success.

You can view the entire event online, at your convenience, on the Seattle Mama Doc Facebook page.

Tips For Parents – The Event’s Top 15 Takeaways:

  1. Know that a teen’s brain cannot fully self-regulate. So helping them keep tech as a part of their life, but not the dominant part, is important. We will all likely live in a more digitized world as time unfolds, so we want to help our children grow up savvy with new technology and its effect. Their brains aren’t fully developed until age 24, so don’t expect them to be able to self-regulate/manage how much time they spend online and on their devices. It’s a challenge for adults to regulate against the amazing design of digital technologies, it may be even harder for our children. Help them understand that the engineering success by these tech companies who build social networks and gaming platforms work against their disconnecting from the phone. It’s therefore a bit of a fight to stay away. But one worth having.
  2. Get your child screened every year for depression starting at age 12. Rates of depression are rising dramatically and parental insight isn’t perfect (half of the parents with a depressed teen don’t know it).
  3. Eat a device-free dinner as a family and give your children the gift of your presence. Your full attention is likely the most valuable gift you give your child, and yourself. I cannot overstate that.
  4. After your children play a game, watch a movie, or explore a device ask them about it. Children and teens love to talk about technology and this is a great way to learn what they think about it and support how they understand how it’s changing who they are and how they live in the world.
  5. Put your phone in greyscale. It will become far less enticing. REALLY TRULY. I employ the greyscale almost every day and it helps me stay off my phone.
  6. Make a family media plan using the American Academy of Pediatrics template.
  7. Reduce watching violent media (movies, tv shows, video games, etc.). We know it’s hard for children under 8 to tease out reality from fiction. Data finds that witnessing violent acts in the media can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed. By 18, an average child has seen 200,000 acts of violence on TV alone. Watch television with your children when you can and turn it off when it gets gnarly.
  8. Insist on car safety (no texting while driving). Previously research at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has established that about 1/3 of American adults say they text and drive. The reality is, it’s worse for teens: data published in 2013 (collected in 2011) by the CDC found that about 45% of teens said they had texted during the most recent month.
  9. Focus on ensuring your teen is getting 8.5-10 hours of sleep per night. The benefit of improving sleep will likely outpace the effects of limiting screen time. Teens (and adults) are happier, more productive, nicer, and safer when they sleep enough. Hands down magic.
  10. Model appropriate behavior with your own devices. Hard to do but we should never stop trying.
  11. Talk as a family about what the right age might be for your tween/teen to get a smartphone. Here’s a podcast I did on this topic.
  12. Establish device-free areas within your home. Dinner, breakfast, and maybe bedrooms. Really.
  13. Podcast series on teen depression. Things you can do for your child if you worry. Don’t wait to talk with the pediatrician if you are worried. And remember, make sure your child is screened for depression every single year so you have a partner in the health system ensuring your child is okay.
  14. Podcast series on anxiety. Key takeaway: don’t permit avoidance and accommodate anxiety when you can. Help teens expose themselves to situations that make them anxious and come through them, building resilience and ways to cope. Don’t take away access to phones for a child who is depressed or anxious as you may make things worse. Connection is good. Isolation is hard and unwanted for children with mental health challenges.
  15. Teens who are moderately or severely depressed have a more dramatic experience of social media (they get a lot of help from the connection, they feel more of the FOMO or pain from being left out at times, too). But they also use social networks to connect. Some 87% of teens go online for health information, and depressed teens are almost twice as likely to look online for support compared with non-depressed teens. AND 94% of teens say that what they find online with searching about health was helpful. Don’t restrict them, rather follow along and ask them. Social media is important for depressed teens – they report it helps them feel less alone, gain support, and express themselves. Work to manage it while also not dissolving its bounty in belonging and connection, too.