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When it Comes to Monitoring Screen Time for Teens, it’s All About Balance

Kids need to learn the good and bad sides of social media

Shay Burk Staff Reporter
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The reality is you can use it to teach them or they’re going to use it to rebel against you.
- Wendy Gwennap, parent

The reality of the situation is that kids are going to come into contact with technology one way or another. That means kids will either teach themselves their own standards or parents can step in early and give their children the tools to learn to navigate social media and other types of entertainment screen media. Counselors and parents agree that it takes time, effort, and a strong relationship between the parents and child for that child to learn to safely use technology. Along with those conversations, there are many apps out there that can help parents and teens meet those safety goals.

The average teenager spends hours every day using computers, tablets, and smartphones to do everything from playing games and chatting with friends to shopping and watching videos.

In fact, each day, teens in the United States spend an average of 7.5 hours on non-school related entertainment screen media. That’s according to the Common Sense Census “Media Use by Tweens and Teens” study released in 2019. In that same study, by comparison, 8- to 12-year-olds spend just under five hours’ worth of time on entertainment screen media.

With the concerns about the content available at their fingertips, many experts and parents agree that a teen’s use of smartphone technology should be a family conversation.

A Counselor’s Perspective

Brian Crouse, a licensed independent professional counselor who works with children and families, said the use of smartphone and computer technology really comes down to the question of how much access and how to regulate use.

”For that, I think it depends on families coming to a conclusion based on the value they see compared with the problems they see,” Crouse said. “Not sure if there can be hard lines on what is and isn’t acceptable because both the user (teen) will be growing and developing as will the technology and what is accessible through smartphones.”

Therefore, Crouse said the key is for parents and teens to have a good relationship, which allows them to have conversations about technology usage and safety guidelines. Then the parent needs to check in regularly to ensure that the teen user is continuing to be safe.

“It’s about teaching them to be responsible with their use,” Crouse said. “Some of this comes before they ever get a phone in their hand though. And some of it comes from parents and adults demonstrating responsible use.”

Getting Involved

These are the same principles that Wendy and Jesse Gwennap used with their teenage sons Noah, 15, and Gabe, 13.

From the time they were young, Wendy said she taught her sons that technology is a tool and that there are ways for it to be safe for kids.

“That has always been part of their vocabulary,” she said. “This is a tool and you have to use it well.”

The Truth About Social Media

Prior to the boys having free use of Instagram and Snapchat, Wendy would have them use the apps sitting next to her. They were taught how to be respectful and that social media is an extension of you as a person.

“Both boys have had to walk away from groups, apps, people who post inappropriate things,” Wendy said.

In fact, one son had numerous friends blocked on his phone. When asked about it, the boy replied they were using inappropriate language on the social app.

“They know if I catch that on their phone, they’re going to lose that privilege. They recognize it is a privilege,” Wendy said.

In addition, before her sons can download a new app, Wendy tries it out for herself. She’s currently in the middle of a 30-day challenge with the popular social media app, TikTok.

She started spending 15 minutes a day watching videos on TikTok and was shocked recently to have heard the “F word” three times in just two minutes while on the app one day.

“Do kids love TikTok? Absolutely, but there is nothing clean about it,” she said.

No Isn’t Always the Best Answer

According to Wendy, the most important thing to remember is kids are going to be exposed to technology whether parents provide them access to it or not. Many high schoolers today have one-to-one technology programs where they are issued a tablet or laptop computer to be used during the school year.

In addition, Wendy said it’s important to educate your children and teach them responsibility and respect for technology rather than trying to forbid them from using it.

“We have friends with a child who had gone around parents’ wishes and made a fake ID on a school computer to access social media,” she said. “The reality is you can use it to teach them or they’re going to use it to rebel against you.”

Using Technology to Their Advantage

While Wendy and Jesse have taught their children respect for technology, they have also used several apps to help protect their children. One of their favorite apps is Google Family Link

“With Gabe’s phone, time limit is a really big thing,” Wendy said. “Gabe gets two hours a day on the weekend and one hour a day during the week. If he’s got a project or whatever, we can add more time,” she said of the app.

The Gwennap clan also uses this app to set perimeters for and track the physical location of their kids during the day and evenings when they’re out.

“Some of these apps help us to be better parents,” Wendy said. “You’ve got to use it to your advantage.”

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Shay Burk

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