Have a Question? Need Parenting Advice? Ask Michael Hawton

teens kids on smartphones in line all looking at their phone

Protect Your Children’s Well-being

What would happen if you came across something so shocking that it required you to take a stand against your teenager’s use of their smartphones? In the parenting courses I teach, I say to parents that one of our jobs is to protect our children’s well-being.

Recent jaw-dropping research by Professor Jean Twenge is saying that parents need to step-up and change teenagers’ smartphone use.  She has analysed changes in teenage behaviour across many years and she compares what happened way-back-when with what is happening now. Here are some of her findings

  • Teenagers are spending less time with each other in person and more time online than teenagers did five years ago.
  • Teenagers who spend more time on screen activity are more likely to be unhappy and those who spend less time on screen activity are more likely to be happy.
  • Twenge says that Facebook causes Have a look at the Danish study she cites, where a group who stayed off Facebook for a week were happier!
  • The links between social media use and depression are strongest among younger teenagers.
  • Teenagers who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, such as making a suicide plan.
  • As teenagers are spending less time together, we’re seeing a corresponding increase in youth suicide. In the US in 2011, for the first time in 24 years, the youth suicide rate was higher than the teen homicide rate.

smartphone screen image snippet of message email icon and alertParents are in the best position to help their teens kick the habit

Of course, it’s one thing to know that something is bad for us or for our kids, but it is quite another to change that something if it’s become a habit.  This can especially be the case when changing that something might involve having a tough conversation with a teenager. And, when we look around at the widespread use of smartphones, we may well say that that ship has well and truly sailed. But, I would urge you to act with courage.  Things that have become one way can just as readily be changed to be another way.  Twenge’s evidence is very strong.  So, let’s get cracking and get them off those devices; they’re making them sick.

Parents are in the best position to help them kick the habit. We can help them shift from being screenagers to be ‘seenagers’ – so that they can be more seen by their friends and by you!

So, here are my two tips to be better prepared for a change of habit

  1. Read Twenge’s full article on how teenagers are being affected by their smartphones or better still, read her book iGen (2017). By reading her research you’ll develop a steely resolve. Here is the short article which appeared in The Atlantic this year: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/
  2. I’d also recommend that you read Engaging Adolescents – parenting tough issues with teenagers (2017) published by Exisle; it will help you with a method for managing any blow back you might get from your teenager, if you intercede to change their social media use.

It’s time to step-up everyone.

By Michael Hawton, MAPS.


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