The Dangers of Distracted Parenting

The Dangers of Distracted Parenting

Parenting is often described as one of the best, most stressful jobs that a person can take on in this life.  While becoming a parent may not always be a decision made or something that is planned, it is an incredible responsibility that comes with a new set of rules, never ending questions, and the need to constantly be “on”. So, what happens when parents go from being ‘on’ top of things, to just being ‘on’ their phone maybe a little too often?

The term for this phenomenon is “Distracted Parenting”. You may not have heard this term before, but I am willing to bet you have seen it. At a restaurant, an entire family on their phones, not speaking to each or even making eye contact. At the park when a child is behaving in a way that would likely be corrected if their parent was not on the bench completely immersed in their phone. At a school or church event and that one kid is running out of the door with no adult present and you think, “Where is the adult?!” The situations are too commonplace and have caused concern among pediatricians.

The American Pediatrics Association recently revealed that more children are being treated for severe injuries from playground accidents than in the past. They asked why this is occurring when the playground equipment is actually the safest it’s been in decades. Literally. The answer: Distracted Parenting. Parents were observed at playgrounds where they looked at their phones, talked to each other, and did ‘other things’ more often than they looked at their child. The researchers point out that children pick up on when they can partake in risky behaviors and tend to do so when they perceive that their parent is distracted. Some children take risks even when the parent is paying attention, so I can only imagine what those children do when they realize no one is watching!

Not only is there potential for physical harm when distracted parenting happens, it can also be emotionally damaging if a child or teen feels that their parent is too busy to talk or participate with them. Too often parents are sharing that perfect Instagram pic of their kid going down the slide rather than watching them in real life. Too often parents are more interested in posting about their “family” dinner rather than participating in a conversation at the table.

An article on Psychology Today shares that being distracted as a parent is expected, especially with multiple children in the home or with parents working, however it is the level to which the distraction occurs that matters. Children and teens are not always the most observant people, but they do notice when the important people in their lives are not paying attention and will take advantage by testing what they can get away with, whether it’s jumping from the highest point of a jungle gym, sneaking out at night, or skipping school among other risky behaviors.

This is why I encourage all of us to focus on putting the phone away and have actual conversations with the children, teens, and adults in our lives. Have a conversation with your teen at dinner, play with your child at the playground, watch your child so they don’t run out the door before you can catch them. I promise, no one will care if pics are posted after the fact, but your child will notice if you go down that slide with them in the moment, they will remember the conversations they have with you, and they will remember the times you give them your undivided attention to help them.

If you think you may struggle with being a distracted parent, leader, teacher, or caregiver, think about your habits and ask these questions:

  • When was the last time you played with your child or teen?
  • What was the last conversation you shared as a family?
  • Ask your child(ren) if they feel you are distracted. (Honesty can go a long way in opening up communication. Respond in kind and avoid responding defensively).
  • Think about the last conversation you had with an adult: were they on their phone? Did you make eye contact? Did you feel heard?
  • What makes you feel heard? (The same probably applies to the children and teens in your life. Have an open conversation about what listening looks like in different settings.)

 

Shelbie Fowler is currently an intern for Teen Life while completing her Master’s in Family Studies. She is passionate about being an advocate for family life education in order to grow families stronger.

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New Technology, New Threats

New Technology, New Threats

Our world is constantly coming up with new ways of advancing technology and bringing it into our homes. Children have robots that can talk and play with them. Teens have smartphones constantly glued to their hands. The majority of the working population is online 8-10 hours a day. In my home, we have to make a conscious effort to not be on a screen when we are spending time together. I know we are not alone in the struggle to disconnect from our screens and connect with each other.

This is a list of helpful resources and ideas that I have put together through, experience, research, and education on online safety:

  1. Create boundaries: know what is and is not okay to share online. We need to teach teens that their address, where they go to school, and even where they work is information that can make it easier to be found by people who may be dangerous. It is much better when they have their accounts set to private. Talk about what types of pictures can be shared on media, even SnapChat. Images last longer than most of us wish online; show them the consequences of having inappropriate pictures shared. Understanding why safety is necessary online is an essential step in helping teens feel responsible for what they say and do online.
  2. Have tech free time: the whole family should disconnect at least weekly to create real life connections. Take a walk, play a board game, make a meal, eat at a table screen-free, do anything to show that you are interested in what teens have to say. Teens are observant and will react to adults putting their screens away. It may be difficult to give up our screens, but it can lead to deeper relationships and more conversation, especially when everyone participates. Don’t believe me? Watch this video from Today to see for yourself how teens felt after giving their phones up for a week.
  3. Model how to act online: talk about what is helpful versus harmful to share online. We have all seen comments of harassment, cyberbullying, and people committing crimes on live stream. Teens react to these situations all the time. The pressure to bully or harass others online can be overwhelming and many teens do not know how to report the behavior or get scared they will get in trouble. We all need to be vigilant in sharing what is appropriate and how to report harmful behaviors online. What we tend to forget is that there are real people on the other side of comments with feelings that are stomped on when we post negative, harassing comments. Teen Life works at helping teens recognize and use empathy in situations, but we should all be aware that we say online can have a lasting impact on a life.

 

Here are some links to some awesome and free resources that can be used by anyone to keep their families safe in this overly connected world:

    • Google has Family Link which creates an account for your children but is fully linked to your account & lets you manage settings.
    • Google also has a Safety Center that has great resources that can be utilized.
    • ReThink is an app that has the potential to help ourselves from making a potentially life-changing mistake by detecting cyberbullying.

 

What apps and resources have you used to help yourself and your teen be responsible with technology? Try some of the resources we’ve listed above, and let us know how it goes!

Shelbie Fowler is currently an intern for Teen Life while completing her Master’s in Family Studies. She is passionate about being an advocate for family life education in order to grow families stronger.
How to Win at Regulating

How to Win at Regulating

It is likely that your teenager will get a new tech device this Christmas. That is, if they don’t already have one. I wrote about this in a previous post and talked about the ways you, as a parent, can monitor and regulate your teenagers use of devices.

Here, I am more interested in how adults in teenagers’ lives can empower teens to regulate themselves. You see, if we aren’t teaching our kids how to set up boundaries from an early age, all they will learn is to follow what someone else tells them to do. Or worse, they will learn to resist and rebel against what they are told to do. Our job needs to be that we help our kids understand the value in setting healthy boundaries and the benefit they will get from doing that on their own. The way I say it to my kids is, “I want you to make choices that allow you to have the freedom to choose to do whatever you want. That includes doing things that are wrong but knowing that when you choose those things, you begin to lose your freedom. So you make the right choices and maintain the freedom you have.”

Here are some ideas for how to help your student make their own choices and boundaries.

  1. Understand that this is a self-control goal. We all struggle with self-control in some area of our life. As students grow up, they will expose many areas in their life that need self-control. Technology use is just one of them. When we focus on the underlying problem, it is not just a battle for more technology time. So helping them see the importance of self-control is key. As they buy in, the idea that technology is a tool (not a toy) can help shape why it is important to regulate their own screen time.

 

  1. Finding the right monitor or software is not the solution. I love that Amazon Kindle for kids highlights that you can set time limits and access limits for your kids. But this is really about you as the adult not being engaged and relying on the tech to do the monitoring. This is not a slam on you as a parent, it is pointing out that if we are not watching and paying attention to what our kids are doing, we will miss when something doesn’t work the way it is supposed to. We also wrongly communicate that the device is in control. This is not something I want my kids to think. I want them to have the power over their device and not be controlled by it. Starting at 8 years old, my wife and I expect our kids to set their own timer for their screen time. This puts them in charge, and if they don’t use it responsibly, then they lose the privilege of using a device.

 

  1. Using technology is a privilege, not a right. Just because other kids get certain devices doesn’t mean everyone does. Just because the school lets a student have extended periods of iPod or ChromeBook use doesn’t mean that happens at my house. The use of technology is for those willing to accept the responsibility that comes along with that. This means that your teenager should be happy to let you look at their text messages, social media interactions and location tracking. The balance of this is that you, as the parent, handle this the right way. Ask yourself, “Have I created a welcoming environment where my teen knows they can approach potentially uncomfortable conversations without me “freaking out”?” If not, start creating that space now and changing the way you interact with your teen so they can learn the lessons they need to before they leave the safety of your home.

 

  1. Finally, be okay with mistakes. Teenagers are going to make mistakes as they learn these lessons. You must be willing to work with them. Understand you are in the coaching stage. It is really too late to discipline life lessons into them, although there are sometimes consequences of actions. But instead, you are there to hear from your teen how that decision has affected what they want to do and who they want to be. Then, help them find a solution to correct things and move on. Ultimately you are helping them learn how to make decisions so they can keep making the right ones.

I hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas and that your 2018 begins with some focused and intentional ways your family can work together even better this coming year.

 

What else would you add here? What have you seen work in trying to help your teenager self regulate and use their technology as a tool not a distraction?

 

Ricky Lewis is our CEO and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.

Disconnected in an Overly Connected World

Disconnected in an Overly Connected World

The distractions in our lives are overwhelming. We are constantly attempting to keep up with the whole world and our own lives, which often leads to us feeling like failures. It is IMPOSSIBLE to stay connected IRL (in real life) when we are connected online 24/7. We have phones, tablets, computers, gaming systems, all loaded down with apps to keep us from having to interact with an actual person. The lack of connections we feel IRL often leads to feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
 

There are three major areas that have been connected to why people have become disconnected IRL:

  1. Social Media lies to us. Constantly. Friends post pictures of achievements. Photoshopped Instagrams make us feel ugly. Snapchats of being happy with a significant other can make us feel lonely. Picture perfect families and homes that are posted make us feel lesser than. Teens and adults alike fall into the trap of the lies that we all share online. Teens are constantly racing to stay popular online with the most likes, re-Tweets, shares, followers, and it is IMPOSSIBLE to keep up with the ever-changing status quo of the online world. Attempting to keep up with social media lies can make teens feel depressed or withdrawn from the people who support them.
  2.  

  3. Information overload. Having a constant stream of information easily accessed from literally the entire world is unhealthy and is often depressing. I personally have quit following news on my social media accounts because it would ruin my day constantly seeing the heart breaking stories of death, bombs, natural disasters, etc. Teens are not only dealing with their daily interactions, but the lies of social media, and the often negative news. Attempting to process information that is a) unnecessary to our everyday lives and b) may or may not be accurate information is overwhelming, which can lead to feelings of depression or anxiety. We all need to take a break from the negative overload of information forced fed to us on our social media accounts.
  4.  

  5. Followers Friends. Researchers have found that there is a negative emotional connection between how many online friends we have versus our real life happiness. What does that mean? It means that when a person becomes more obsessed with how many friends they have online, the less happy they are in real life, especially for teens and young adults. This complete obsession with social media followers leads to real life relationships being lost by the wayside because teens lose the ability to communicate in real life. Not being able to communicate about emotions without emojis is a serious issue that should be addressed and is why educating teens on communication is a core tenet of Teen Life.

 
I have found the best way to combat the depression, anxiety, and loneliness that comes from social media is to disconnect for at least one hour a day. This can be scary, especially for teens who are falling for the lies, being overloaded, and are concerned about followers. Disconnecting from all electronics and all social media for an hour a day can lead to us finding new ways of connecting in real life, recharging our brains to be better able of seeing through the lies, and can help improve our moods.

 

If you want to hear more about this subject, check out this eight minute video that truly highlights what is going on when we have an obsession with our social media.

Shelbie Fowler is currently an intern for Teen Life while completing her Master’s in Family Studies. She is passionate about being an advocate for family life education in order to grow families stronger.

Loving Your Neighbor Can Save the World

Loving Your Neighbor Can Save the World

Doesn’t it seem like the world is literally falling apart?

Hurricanes.

Wildfires.

Earthquakes.

Nuclear war.

Political upheaval.

Racial tensions.

We live in what seems like really strange times. I’ve heard it said over and over again that we live in a time unlike any other – that things have never been worse than they are now.

And the evidence we see on the news and social media would seem to back that up. But, there is a problem we need to acknowledge before we sign off on these times being the worst ever.

What seems to be hidden in all of these stories and posts is the fact that we know about all of them – not only that we have access, but that it comes so quickly. And, this seems to be one of those years where all of the bad stories seem to come “rapid fire”.

This is not to downplay the horrors we see in front of us. What needs to be recognized is the effect all of these news events have on our psyche and how we respond.

We cannot deny what is going on around us. But we also should not deny what it is doing to us. Think about it – when you hear about all of the things I listed above, what is your natural response?

Fear? Denial? Anxiety? Defensiveness?

It could be many things, but usually when we get overloaded with story after story about suffering in the world, we become paralyzed. We don’t know what to do, how to help, or even where to start if we did want to help. This is a big world with many difficulties.

Some call it information overload or compassion fatigue. We want to help and care, but there is too much to help and care about!

Teenagers are growing up in this world, and likely are handling it better than adults like me who remember a time when information wasn’t as readily or as quickly available. But even so, we must help teenagers (and ourselves for that matter) overcome these overloads to see the needs and hurts in their own communities. While what is going on in other parts of the world seems overwhelming and needs help, so do many of the issues and problems facing our own communities.

Let us be people whose hearts go out to the suffering and needy in the world, but also making room for our neighbors and friends in the same situations. Let us be self-aware – with a willingness to step back and realize when we are feeling overwhelmed – to do the things we need to be available to serve our neighbors. This might mean shutting the laptop, deleting the social media account, or creating strict boundaries on what we consume.

The world might seem like it is crumbling, but let us not become overwhelmed to the point we fail to act on behalf of our neighbors.

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s COO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.