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#223 – The Screen and Your Teen

by Mark Gregston

March 8th, 2020

Do you remember the old Star Trek television shows and those futuristic gadgets they used to communicate with each other? It seemed so far-fetched at the time to talk through holograms and TV screens, but today it’s our reality and deeply ingrained in our culture, especially among teenagers. We live in a world with unparalleled means to communicate—Facebook, iPads, smart phones, texting, Twitter, SnapChat, e-mail, YouTube, websites, blogs, RSS feeds, Skype—we can be in constant contact with anyone, anywhere, 24/7! But it also means our faces are glued to glowing screens most of the day.

Less face-time and more screen-time leads to us getting worse at “connecting” with other people. Young people today seem to rely more on text-messaging, instant messaging, micro-blogging, and their own web pages to communicate. I’ve even watched teens sit in the same room and send one another text messages without ever stopping to talk to one another face to face. And I’ve observed the effect on teens who are “dumping” all this information on social media, but really listening to each other less. Author Stephen Marche, in his article “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” put it perfectly:

“Over the past three decades, technology has delivered to us a world in which we need not be out of contact for a fraction of a moment. … Yet within this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits of time or space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation.  We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society.  We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are.”

Another issue of real concern is the safety factor. As technologies evolve at a rapid rate, teens are diversifying: dividing their attention among a selection of new and existing apps and sites that let them write, share, chat, and meet new friends. This makes it harder for concerned parents to monitor their teens’ digital interactions; however, parents would be wise to obtain at least a cursory knowledge of the types of the latest social media platforms and apps—particularly the so-called “secret apps” such as Snapchat and Whisper. Whisper, as the name implies, is a social confessional app with “whispers” that are often sexual in nature and include other disturbing topics such as suicide and substance abuse.

While these concerns are real and put the responsibility on parents to exercise extra diligence, I’m not advocating that we all become Luddites. I don’t hate technology. I own a smart phone. I text, I email, and I use Facebook. These are not bad devices.  We don’t need to throw our iPhones into a bonfire and start using carrier pigeons to communicate. The danger, however, becomes when our kids (or ourselves for that matter) become so immersed in the blinking lights and bleeping sounds of our devices that we neglect face-to-face conversation or spending time with other people.  I’ve found an easy formula; more screen time and less people time equals stunted growth for us and our teens.  It’s really that simple.  In this over-stimulated culture of ours, we have got to teach our teens competency in connecting; how to interact and communicate with the world around them in a way that provides them with community and acceptance. In a culture that nurtures self-expression, relying on these screens to communicate creates a terrible habit of conversation that is shallow and one that encourages self-expression stretched to unimaginable limits. If we don’t help our teens unplug a bit, we’ll all lose these three things:  depth of conversation, decorum and strong relationships.

Depth of Conversation

Is talking to your teen like pulling teeth?  Do you have to strain and struggle to get complete sentences out of your son or daughter?  It could be that we’re too used to communicating with screens than we are with real people. You see, the dialogue through a computer or smart phone is either one-way or short and brief.  Facebook is beneficial for talking to long lost friends, chatting with people, or telling your parents what you did for the summer.  But too often, a Facebook page transforms into a one-direction, narcissistic scream for attention.  Look at what I did!  Listen to what I am saying!  Someone pay attention to me! It turns into a world revolving around the teen.

If you feel your child is slipping into this mode of connecting and communicating, pull them away from the screen and get them talking! Model for them the importance of deep conversations.  When they talk to you, drop what you’re doing (if you can), turn to face them, look them in the eye, and verbally acknowledge them.  Show them what it looks like to engage in face-to-face time.  And expect the same thing of them.

I read a story recently about two young boys who had given up trying to engage their dad in conversation.  He was always on the computer or playing a video game. When they would pipe up and say “Hey, dad, can I show you something?” the dad would often not even look up and would often respond with, “Give me five minutes” and go back to looking at his screen.  Those kids are looking for connections and communication and they will go to any lengths to get it. So model deep conversations around your home, and engage your kids in meaningful communication.

Decorum

The false security of a computer screen allows many teens to say and post things they would never do out in the real world. They use coarse language, post sexually explicit photos or messages, or taunt and bully other people. Twitter, blogs, Facebook, YouTube—they all offer some level of anonymity and kids can’t see the consequences of their behaviors online like they would in real life.  It’s also changing the way kids resolve conflicts. Instead of meeting someone in person to settle disputes, they are taking to the screens to wage battles. The digital wars that are raised and fought through text messages and websites may not be bloody, but they can still destroy lives.

If your teen says or posts something disrespectful, hurtful, or inappropriate on the web or through their phone, don’t explode.  Ask them, is this an image that you want everyone to see? Will this hurt or help your relationships? Explain the damage that can happen when posting too much information or acting a certain way online.  Dads—don’t let your sons break up with girlfriends on the phone or by text. Make them talk in person.  Moms—if your daughter is fighting with someone, encourage her to meet that person and resolve it verbally. Stripped of the safety of the screen, teens will learn and develop their sense of decorum, respect, and conflict resolution.

Depth of Relationships

We are community-oriented creatures. We crave relationships with other people. And the only way to build a relationship with another person is to spend time and talk with them. Not email.  Not text.  Talk.

But many teens are missing out. According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, about three-quarters of teens use their phones to text, sending an average of sixty messages a day.  Fewer than 40% of teens use their phone to actually call somebody. So how do we get our kids off the phone and engaging?

Start a once a week “Plugged-in” night. Set up a box near the living room, and every member has to drop their phone off into the box before they come in. Then start a fire, play a game, talk about the day or events in the world. If once a week is too much, consider putting aside the phone and electronics once a month, and show your kids they can function without them. Also, spend time with your kids away from television, computers or phones. Take them out to breakfast, talk and share a meal together. Don’t run to the extreme and ban Facebook, texts, text or Twitter. Instead, give your kids options. Invite their friends to go camping with you. Plan a group date for the movies. Go out for coffee and ask questions. Show your teen that deep relationships aren’t formed by typing on a screen.

We’ve gotten to be good communicators.  We are experts at throwing words out there.  But with all the talking, this generation is missing out on connecting.  Teaching competency in connecting doesn’t mean throwing electronics or technologies out the window.  But it does involve turning off the phone or computer and saying, “Let’s talk.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.  Here you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens App, a great way to listen on your schedule.

 


#219 – How To Repair a Broken Relationship With Your Teen

How’s your relationship with your teen? Do feel there is a distance between you and your child, and the space is only increasing everyday? Has your once happy relationship with your kid turned into open animosity with your teen? Maybe it feels like your sweet baby went upstairs one day, and came down a totally different person – someone who seems like a total stranger to you?

You’re not alone. I get calls every day from parents just like you who say, “My relationship with my teen is disintegrating before my eyes. What can I do?” If that sounds like a call you could make right now, let me share some ways you can start mending your relationship before it is destroyed altogether. Consider implementing some of these relationship repairs:

Take Stock of the Relationship

Like going into your closet and getting rid of all the clothes that don’t fit us anymore or have simply gone out of style (are you ever going to wear anything with shoulder pads again?), we need to go into our parenting closet and take inventory. This requires an honest evaluation of the actions, beliefs, styles, and habits in our home and a willingness to toss out everything that doesn’t belong or doesn’t work. What are some areas that you can change and adapt as a parent?  How can you accommodate the growing needs of your teenager?  How can you grow alongside them as they learn to navigate the world?  Like reaching back into the closet and taking out those corduroy bell-bottoms you haven’t worn since high school, take regular time to examine the ways you are connecting to your teen. See what is out of style, what needs to change and what keeps you stuck in the past. I realize that these are tough words to handle. It’s not easy to hear that maybe something we are doing as parents is hurting our kids.  But we can all readily admit that we don’t have the parenting gig down pat. There’s always room for growth as moms and dads. As our children grow, so should we. Rebuilding relationships with our teenagers takes a willingness to pray what the Psalmist prayed; “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23)

Start Asking Questions

Want to get your relationship with your teen back on track? Start asking the right kind of questions. What do you mean by that? Ask the kind of questions that make them think about things, not just “yes” or “no” questions. Find out what they think, how they would do something, where they would go, and why. When a discussion leads to surprising expressions of wisdom from your teen, take advantage of the moment to reinforce their insights. Talk about controversial subjects as you would with a friend or co-worker for whom you have great respect. Never belittle their opinions about things. After all, did you know everything when you were a teen?

Then, ask some more personal questions. “What could I do to improve our relationship?” or “What things would you like to see change in our family?” Let me warn you–if you ask these types of questions, you may not like what you hear. But don’t run from the answers. Hearing honest feedback from your child may open your eyes to areas that need to change. You’ll also be communicating to your child that you desire to do everything you can to restore and maintain a loving relationship.

Take Ownership for Mistakes

The statement “I was wrong” (when said by a parent) can do wonders for a broken relationship. If you handled a situation poorly, admit where you made a mistake. Never will your child respect you more than when you admit your faults and ask for forgiveness. Humble parents who admit their mistakes and apologize are building healthy, happy families. Rebuilding your relationship with your child is always a higher calling than saving face. Learn phrases that specifically communicate your offense and build a bridge:

  • “I was wrong in the way I approached you. Will you forgive me for that and allow us to talk about it further?”
  • “I made some comments that were out of line. I was wrong, and I’d like to start our discussion over. Can we do that?”
  • “I think what I said came out wrong.  I never meant to hurt you.  Would you give me a second chance to tell you what I was thinking?”

Create the Proper Environment

Don’t let your family get emotionally stuck in the mistakes and tension of the past. Create an environment that welcomes and invites change.  If you feel like it’s time to make some positive shifts in your family, sit everyone down and tell them, “We need to make some changes around here–me included. It’s not going to be the same-old, same-old.  Let’s work together as a family to move forward.” I’ve spoken on this topic at seminars a few times.  And afterwards, I always have parents and teens come up to me and say, “Thank You!  We decided as a family that we needed to change, and it was one of the best decisions we made.  Our kids are happier, and we feel happier as parents!

Act On It

Once you decide to make some changes towards restoring broken relationships, it’s time to act!  Maybe you’ve realized that as a mom or dad you have been too overprotective in certain areas.  Apologize to your kids and show them that you are working on changing and releasing some control. Perhaps you’ve seen that much of your conversation with your children comes off as judgmental. Express to your family your desire to change, and work towards infusing your conversations with grace. Or maybe you’ve realized that you just haven’t spent the time you need with your teen. Drop that weekend golf game, or forgo that daily run, in order to spend time with your teen. Those visible actions convey your willingness to work towards a better relationship.

Stay With the Plan

We don’t wake up one day with the perfect marriage, perfect kids, or perfect home.  Those relationships take time and effort. So if your connection with your teen is in trouble, and you are working towards making positive changes, don’t give up!  Stay with the plan.  In difficult transitions, your teen may push back.  They may dig in their heels as you try to rebuild the relationship. But keep the mindset and attitude that says, “We’re not going backward, only forward.” Even if you get nothing but grief from your teen at first, keep up your weekly time together, week after week. Eventually they’ll come around. Remember, relationships thrive when unconditional love is delivered across a bridge of friendship that never stops — even if your teen doesn’t respond. He or she may secretly be testing your commitment!

I want to challenge you today to commit to rebuilding a relationship with your child, and that starts with good communications. No matter how strained or difficult your relationship might be, there is always hope. It may take time and persistence, but keep at it. You can have a happy, healthy and fulfilling relationship with your teen.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.  Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.


Privileges and Expectations for Teens

#504 – Student Story: Lucas

Is your over-controlling behavior causing tension in your family? Don’t be fooled—your teen’s outward compliance may not reflect their inward state of mind.

This weekend on Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston proposes a healthy alternative to softhearted leniency or iron-fisted ruling—and shows why balance is worth pursuing!

For free parenting resources, please click here.

For the latest on how to parent your teen, please visit the Parenting Today’s Teens website or our bookstore.

If you listen on a mobile phone or tablet, please download our Parenting Today’s Teens app available for Apple or Android. If you listen on a desktop or laptop computer, press the “play” button above to enjoy daily parenting advice.

For any more info on Parenting Today’s Teens or Heartlight, please visit https://parentingtodaysteens.org/ -or- https://www.heartlightministries.org/