THE EDGE OF ADULTHOOD: EIGHT SUMMER TIPS FOR PARENTING TEENAGE CHILDREN THIS SUMMER
Summer is often a time when teenagers take major strides towards independence. They may start their first job, land an internship, volunteer with a charity, or visit college campuses to plan for the future. However, with the current COVID-19 pandemic reshaping the entire world right now, many teens have had to put their traditional summer plans on hold. Parents, too, will need to rethink their approach to technology when it comes to guiding and supporting their adolescents through these difficult and uncertain times.
As part of our ongoing series, Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development has teamed up with some of the top experts in the fields of parenting, education, and child psychology to bring you a new collection of helpful hints for making the most of this pivotal moment in your teenager’s development. Read on for details, and be sure to tune in to the next “Ask The Experts” interactive webinar series at noon EDT today, June 8, when an esteemed panel of experts will talk about how to navigate this unique summer with your teen and answer your questions via Zoom. You can RSVP here. The workshop will be moderated by Robert M. Bilder, PhD, Director of the Tannenbaum Center for the Biology of Creativity at UCLA, the Michael E. Tannenbaum Family Distinguished Professor and Chief, Division of Psychology; Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.
Neuroscientists have found that roughly 60-90 minutes of heavy technology use creates a major overload in the brain, and an overloaded brain simply doesn’t work as well as a calm one. Luckily, the cure is easy. TAKE BREAKS. A short break, even as few as 10 minutes, is like hitting “reset” for your body. Brain scans shows us that exercising, taking a walk outside in nature, talking to a friend in person, working on a crossword puzzle, listening to music, and, in fact, any activity that takes your mind away from your devices can be beneficial. Stepping away for 10-15 minutes every hour or so will help “reset” your overloaded brain so you can function more smoothly and effectively. – Larry Rosen, PhD, Professor Emeritus and Past Chair of the Psychology Department at California State University, Dominguez Hills
Connect and cope
Remember when you were a teenager, on the edge between childhood and adulthood? Your mind and body felt ready for more grown up things, but part of you longed for the safety and security of childhood. As teens, we feel so much, and it can be difficult for many to put these feelings into words or to know when and how to share them. Imagine being a teen today when there is so much to feel. Take advantage of the time when you and your teen(s) are in the house together. Think of a movie that explores some of the feelings your teen might be feeling. Watch together and ask them questions about what the characters in the stories were going through, how the characters felt, and what they think the character did right or could have done differently. Be open to all their explorations and listen. The movie you choose might be about a crisis, about a cultural revolution, or just about being a human being dealing with big things. Also, try some fantasy and comedy to visit times and places that bring feelings of calm and spark the imagination. Let them choose some shows or films to show you, as well, and ask why they like them. Stories help us focus on problems and solutions in a space where the consequences aren’t ours. They help us move through difficult feelings and consider how we want to be in the world. I hope that some of these experiences with your kids can end up creating silver linings in your family’s shared memories of this moment in history. – Karen Shackleford, faculty member in the Media Psychology doctoral program at Fielding Graduate University, and Incoming Editor of Psychology of Popular Media.
Teens need opportunities to exercise their emerging sense of independence, which can be difficult to do when most of their time is spent at home. This summer, help them find (safe) ways to get out of the house and do something without you. It could be as simple as hanging out with friends, or it could be more involved, like participating in a social cause they care about. Whatever the activity, the key thing is that it’s theirs. – Katie Davis, Associate Professor, University of Washington Information School
Use the news
Between COVID, climate change concerns, and protests over police brutality and civil liberties, teens on social media are likely seeing a lot of contradictory information with high emotional stakes, so it’s important to use this opportunity to teach them about media literacy and healthy habits when it comes to news consumption. Teenagers are capable of understanding a lot, and often want to talk about these issues as part of their emerging political identity, but they need a way to sort through and make sense of it all. Talk to your teens about different sources and biases, using reverse image search to verify pictures, and the pros and cons of expressing one’s views on social media. As teens may be exposed to images of racial violence and trauma circulated online, talk to them about how they manage their media intake, how it makes them feel, and what they can do with this information. For teens who want to express their views, talk to them about how they can manage the risk of online political expression by thinking about which platforms they use, who they follow, and how they comment on others’ posts. Not sure how to proceed? Check out Common Sense Media Resources such as Parenting, Media and Everything in Between and Resources about Race and Racism. – Ellen Middaugh, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Lurie College of Education, San Jose State University, @emiddaugh on Twitter
Cut your teens (and yourself) some slack, and let your kids connect with their friends online. An important part of being an adolescent is learning about friendships, and in a COVID world this is happening increasingly online. If your teen is a gamer, let them play extra Fortnite with their friends, or if they love social media, encourage them to reach out, create, and connect on TikTok and Snapchat. Luckily, the research shows that most kids are not negatively harmed by this kind of social connection, but of course be sensitive if your teen seems to be exhibiting any extra anxiety from the additional screen time. Make sure they balance screen time with family time and physical activity (which these days can also involve screens), but don’t worry too much, especially if they are using these platforms to socialize. As one teen said pre-COVID, “I’m not addicted to technology, I’m addicted to my friends.” And that’s a good thing! — Yalda T. Uhls, Ph.D, Author of Media Moms & Digital Dads: A Fact not Fear Approach to Parenting in the Digital Age, Founder of UCLAs Center for Scholars & Storytellers
Rest is best
For good mental and physical health, it’s vital that adolescents receive 8-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. A lack of quality rest puts teens at far greater risk for anxiety, depression, impaired learning, poor diet and obesity. Teens have an extended circadian rhythm, which means they’re susceptible to staying up and sleeping in later, especially if they engage in screen media at night and don’t have structured activities to get them out of bed in the morning. Unchecked, adolescent sleep patterns during the summer can quickly become completely deregulated and dysfunctional. Many teens need parental intervention to maintain healthy sleep habits. Often the best thing that parents can do for the health of their adolescents is ensure that they get out of bed by 8AM and stay out of bed during the day. Parents should also consider completely eliminating screen media from their teen’s bedroom, which will keep help keep the teen out of their bed during the day and help ensure that their devices don’t keep them up or wake them up late at night. Getting adolescents out of bed in the morning can be a challenge, but it can be helpful to gradually open window shades in the morning and let natural light into the room, which helps teens wake up and resets their circadian rhythm correctly. Teens typically don’t appreciate this type of structure being put into their day, but it can do wonders for their health and well being. – Paul Weigle, MD, American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry’s Media Committee Chair
Engage in anti-racist action
Take time this summer to engage in a collective effort to confront racism online and offline through co-watching, co-reading and discussing works that illustrate the impact of systemic racism on Black people in the United States. Several documentaries, docu-series, and films are available to watch, as well as historic speeches and debates such as James Baldwin’s debate with William F. Buckley in 1965. There are now several online resources, such as this one, which presents several ways in which you and your adolescent can schedule time each day to increase awareness around racism, and how to combat racism, in the United States. Remember that contribution is one of the key developmental tasks of adolescence, and engaging in dialogues around important societal issues is one significant way to validate your adolescent’s perspective and growth. – Kate Mills, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Oregon
Let teens lead
When my teen daughter Tessa was not long ago experiencing lots of stressful emotions all I wanted to do was help her. Yet, each time I stepped into to try to suggest solutions, I just made things worse. As a physician, I looked for science to explain what was happening and this led me to Dr. Jessica Borrelli’s research on just this issue. Borrelli wanted to understand what happens when parents step in and try to problem-solving for their teens. Borrelli ran experiments where they created a computing puzzle where teenagers were asked to do a puzzle which was basically unsolvable. The parents were told not to help. Monitors that measure stress levels were placed on the skin the teens and the parents. Once the teens started failing at the puzzle most parents stepped in to help. The researchers found that when the parents stepped in and tried to help they had decreases in their stress and the teens had increases in theirs.This scientific explanation helps me with problem-solving now and now I often employ these simple phrases which have made a huge difference with my daughter, “I am curious, what solutions have you been thinking about to address that problem? And, “I am here to brainstorm solutions whenever you want me to — just let me know.” These phrases let her know I have faith in her problem-solving skills and also they put the sense of control in her hands—if she wants my input she has control to ask me for it. – Delaney Ruston, MD, director of Screenagers and Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER about uncovering skills for stress resilience, and author of the parenting blog, Tech Talk Tuesdays.
This summer is already shaping up to be a challenging one for parents and teens on a number of fronts, but such challenges can yield important physical, mental, and social growth if approached with a healthy mindset. Encourage your teens to engage with the world in safe and thoughtful ways while at the same time giving them the space to develop their own identity and values. For more tips, and to have your questions answered by experts, don’t forget to register for today’s virtual workshop here.
About Children and Screens
Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development is a 501C(3) national non-profit organization founded by Dr. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra. Children and Screens advances and supports interdisciplinary scientific research, enhances human capital in the field, informs and educates the public, and advocates for sound public policy for child health and wellness.