Media usage varies among students. Towards the high end of the spectrum, some teens clock up an average of 53 hours a week of media time! That equates to more than 7.5 hours a day, which is phenomenal when you take into consideration the fact of the other givens of a young person’s day.
- 8 hours of sleep
- 7 hours of school
- 4 hours of eating, dressing, hygiene, commuting etc
- =19 hours
That leaves 5 hours to do homework, part-time employment, team sports, music practice, etc. Media time inevitably chews up sleep time, which is a crucial factor of adolescent well-being. When sleep is out of whack, everything begins the slow slide to ruin: bad mood sours relationships; motivation peters out and grades slip; fatigue sets up depression and all kinds of other nasties. Parents, therefore, really need to rein in their teen’s internet and electronic device usage.
Here are some suggestions for parents whose children have developed some bad habits. Following these tips can help get your student’s media time back under control, so their health isn’t compromised and so an addiction is not formed. Parents of younger children can look at the page titled “Building Fences in Cyberspace” to see how to implement house rules early, before the bad habits can be formed.
If you think there is an issue, calmly talk it over with your student. Explain the risks of overexposure to media, including negative effects on grades and relationships and health problems associated with loss of sleep. Demonstrate that your aim is to involve them in setting the limits, rather than you simply “laying down the law.”
1) Ask your student to keep a log of media time, so they can get an accurate picture of how much time they spend using media. Include phone time, games, internet, email, social media.
2) Once a week’s log has been completed, ask the student to analyse their use. What would be heavy? (e.g., too much time on FaceBook; too many late night texts; not being able to end a gaming session.)
3) Does the student think they are experiencing any negative effects of this amount of usage? Grades? Fatigue? Mood? Share your observations (without judging or condemning) and those of other family members. Do you and your child have the same view of what’s happening?
4) Ask your student to pick the most problematic area out and suggest a limit. Counter or affirm with your view and suggestions. Reach an agreement to reduce or remove this usage. For example, if FaceBook is a problem during the school week, could you agree that it will not be accessed on school nights. (Allow for extenuating circumstances, as long as the student is willing to be transparent.) Another example, if late night texting is a problem, ask your student to hand in their phone to you at night to keep in your bedroom (switched off—or it will keep you awake!) It is advisable to work on one or two problem areas at a time. Changing everything can be overwhelming for the student.
5) Shake or sign off. Writing down the terms can be helpful. (See the page titled “Contracts.” Agree on what to do about non-compliance ahead of time. Similarly, agree what how to reward a major improvement. Perhaps a relaxation could be negotiated.
6) Walk it out. Allow your student a few nights to get used to the new arrangements. Try not to nag. Cheerful, positive reminders tend to work better than nagging with anyone—especially teens.
7) If the problem does not improve after a month of trying, you may wish to involve outside help. The College Counsellor is available for this kind of support, or she can recommend other sources of help.