There probably isn’t a parent out there who hasn’t had a battle of some kind over PlayStation/ Xbox/Facebook versus homework/family time/revision. The harsh truth is that the distractions tempting our children are here to stay and the things we’d rather they were spending their time on are facing tough competition. So how do we as parents manage this situation without embarking on an all out war?
1. Setting boundaries that have been agreed in advance will make life easier and less stressful for everyone. It isn’t always easy to do because any attempts to restrict access to a favourite online activity will be fiercely resisted. However, your teenager’s job is to find out where the boundaries are and your job as a parent is to put up those fences. Don’t be afraid to come up against some resistance at first. In the long term your teen will thank you for giving them clear guidelines on how far they can push the limits. Negotiate calmly and have an end goal in mind (e.g. 2hrs a night maximum on school days) but start lower than this (e.g. 1hr) so that you give some leeway for compromise.
2. Think back to your own life as a teenager and think about what distracted you. Did you watch more Grange Hill and Blackadder than was good for you? Perhaps you infuriated your parents by sitting in the hall on the phone to friends for hours at a time, running up a bill and preventing anyone else getting through on the line. Every generation has its distractions and conflicts and our young people are experiencing the same influences on their time socially as we did as teenagers, it’s just that the format is different.
3. Understand the problem. What is it that annoys you most? Is it the fact that too much time on Facebook causes friendship dramas and encourages bullying? Maybe your child is neglecting school work or sleeping poorly. If you feel there’s a connection between the distraction and a serious problem then talk to your teen about your concerns. However, if it’s the distraction itself that you object to, try and look at it from a different angle. Just because it’s new or is something you don’t understand or have heard bad things about doesn’t mean it’s detrimental to your teen. Spend a bit of time getting to know what they’re doing and how the game or activity works. They could well be learning some useful skills, such as team building and problem solving.
4. Operate an early warning system. Once you’ve set curfews make sure you give plenty of warning ahead of the time. The nature of computer games and social networking means they are absorbing activities and your teenager will be far more likely to cooperate if he or she has been warned in advance that the deadline for switch off is approaching. And stick to what you agreed regardless of the ‘just 2 more minutes’ protest.
5. Recognise that computer games and social media are here to stay and even if your teenager does lose interest eventually there will soon be something else along to distract them from their activities, just as there were things in your own youth that tempted you away from the things you should have been doing. In fact, many adults are experts at procrastination too. Accepting that this is the way things are will help you look more proactively for ways to manage the situation and your relationship with your teen.
For more tips on helping your teenager avoid procrastination take a look at my ebook Improve Your Teenager’s Exam Revision
For advice on improving the self-awareness and emotional intelligence of your teenager enquire about my coaching programme My Teenage Mind