Digital Sanity Tool Kit for Parents

If you have a teenager, you may be in a tailspin on what to do about that phone, not to mention their laptop, iPad, and TV usage.

On one hand, you want your teenager to keep up with friends and be a part of what is going on. Yet, on the other hand, you don’t want your teenager to be fixated on their text stream and social media posts. It can be difficult as a parent to help navigate your teenager in the digital space. So, how can you, as parents, help supervise and guide your teenagers to digital adulthood successfully?

The American Academy of Pediatrics has struggled on how to best guide parents of teens on-screen usage, too. Frankly it is a bit tricky and complicated for everyone involved. Parents should know that they are not alone, and there are tools and guidance to help.

“It’s a part of our world. Parents and caregivers have to be savvy on setting limits and actively guiding our adolescents to keep them safe,” said Dr. Diane Straub, USF Health pediatrician specializing in Adolescent Medicine.

According to the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Results for Hillsborough County, high school students are being electronically cyberbullied; 12% of 9th graders, 16% of 10th graders, 14% of 11th graders, and 11% of 12th graders. For the gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual community in Hillsborough County high schools, the percentage increases to 22%.

Although there are problems that surround screen usage, there are positive attributes to the digital era, too. It’s all about finding that balance.

Screen time Positive Attributes

  • Access to so much great information at our fingertips.
  • Television shows and apps can be educational, especially with parental interaction.
  • Opportunities to socialize and engage in many ways, especially when separated from friends and family.
  • Technology offers an opportunity to engage with your teenager in what they enjoy, such as gaming.
  • Limits on screen time, including social media, can generate positive mental health.

Screen time Negative Attributes

  • Overuse and underuse of social media can link to depression.
  • Too much screen time contributes to sleep deprivation, obesity, and lack of engagement in other activities.
  • Cyberbullying and online sexual predators are threats to our adolescents.
  • Teenagers may trust a news source, but they don’t always know how to get accurate information. Unregulated marketing messages are sophisticated and can provide inaccurate information.

Striking a Healthy Balance

  • Limiting discretionary screen usage is not a straightforward approach with teenagers using laptops and the web for schoolwork. A limit of one hour to one and half hours total discretionary screen time a day is recommended.
  • Create tech-free zones to preserve interaction at family mealtimes.  Keep phones out of bedrooms to avoid sleep disruption.
  • With social media, it’s important to find that middle ground, where your teenager is keeping up with friends, at the same time, set time usage limits.
  • Other activities such as regular exercise, participation in clubs, and the pursuit of interests and hobbies should be encouraged.

Teaching teenagers about being responsible online, maintaining privacy, is a great opportunity to prepare them for adulthood. It is recommended for parents to monitor their teenager’s online activity and messages on their phones to provide guidance. As your teenager shows a pattern of responsible behavior online, the need to monitor decreases.

“Remind your teen frequently that not everything is true, and that people or advertisers posting the information often have ulterior motives and are trying to manipulate the reader. Always check multiple sources and read with a critical eye,” Dr. Straub said.

Children and Media Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics provides more recommendations on managing your teen’s screen usage.

“To keep it simple, try to keep your teenagers discretionary screen usage to an hour to an hour and a half daily. This interval of time is a rough guideline for parents depending on your teenager’s schedule and free time. It’s also so important to make bedrooms tech free. Adolescents need their sleep and sleep deprivation is very common in this age group,” Dr. Straub said.

The next blog, Digital Sanity Tool Kit For Parents – Part II provides ways to evaluate and develop a discretionary screen usage limit for your kids. It also provides information on an online guide for parents on everything from appropriate apps to books, and most importantly, content and screen time limiting safeguards.

For specialized care for your teen, please contact USF Health Pediatrics at (813) 259-8700.

Written By; Kathleen Rogers

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