Ep 84: Contain Your Teen’s Tech

Joshua Wayne, author of new book The Simple Parenting Guide to Technology, clues Andy in on the latest statistics and solutions to teens’ addiction to technology. Plus, how to adjust your rules--or set them--during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Full show notes

Viewing Life From a Screen

Did you know the average teen spends over seven hours a day in front of a screen? And no—that doesn’t include mandatory screen time for school research, Zoom classes, and online assignments. The average teen screen time of seven hours a day is spent on video games, apps, social media, and other forms of aimless web browsing. Passive entertainment is taking up more and more of teens’ free time every day. In fact, some researchers estimate that teens spend as much as 40% of their life in front of a screen. This is a worrisome statistic for parents—and anyone invested in the next generation for that matter.

The teenage years are critical for cognitive brain development, forming positive relationships, and practicing social skills. So what happens if your teenager is stunting their cognitive development by staying up hours into the night playing video games, Snapchatting, and scrolling through Instagram? This oversaturization can have lasting negative effects on a teen’s brain. So should parents reduce the average teen screen time? Considering how much social media and other screen-based activities play a role in a teen’s social life—especially since COVID-19 has postponed many in-person activities—parents have to walk a fine line when monitoring their teens’ technology use. So what should parents do to balance phone and TV time with in person interactions?

This week I spoke with expert Joshua Wayne, author of The Simple Parenting Guide to Technology, to discuss how parents can monitor the average teen screen time. Wayne’s book provides parents with incredibly practical ways to approach screen time, and with COVID-19 spurring a massive increase in virtual connectivity, his perspective is more valuable now than ever. In our interview, Wayne explains how to create and implement a technology agreement and how it can be used to set guidelines for the average teen screen time.

Big Tech Problems

Technology has brought us access to a wealth of information we would otherwise have to search libraries upon libraries for. Think about how you would accomplish a book report on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War when you were a teen and computers and smartphones didn’t exist. You had to go to the library and check out four different books to compile enough information for your report. And then you’d have to write the whole thing without spellcheck—what a pain! In comparison, having access to this information instantly and without having to leave home saves us so much time. Wayne firmly believes that technology has brought more good than bad and that it’s here to stay. Fighting for the average teen screen time to be zero is not only futile, but unrealistic and impractical.

So with that in mind, should parents reduce the average teen screen time? Generally speaking, yes, but the amount and way it’s limited is up to the individual family. Wayne knows all families have different levels of reliance on technology. For a family with two kids heavily involved in varsity sports who aren’t particularly reliant on their phone, setting a two-hour limit per day works. However, for the family of a teen who isn’t big on extracurriculars but spends their time learning how to code software by watching YouTube videos, a four-hour limit a day is more realistic.

In this interview, Wayne uses a few simple guiding rules to help you decide what screen time limits are best for your specific situation. Parents need to acknowledge that the average teen screen time is seemingly high partially because of how important social media is to your kids. Although you might have Instagram or Facebook yourself, you might be wondering why your teen needs to waste their entire day messaging on social media and Snapchatting their friends. However, they might actually be having extremely meaningful conversation and developing strong bonds with their friends on these apps. These conversations have become even more precious to teens since the COVID-19 outbreak has prevented them from seeing their friends at school or on the weekends. They’re starved of a social outlet and what’s filling this gap is social media. It may be frustrating to see them on their phone constantly but ultimately, if your teen’s screen time is being spent on a healthy activity it might be better to make more room for it in their life.

Using electronic devices is part of everyday life, but getting outside, stowing phones at night, and in-person interactions are all productive ways to lower the average teen screen time. These suggestions should be included in your Family Tech Agreement, which is a plan Wayne developed to help parents create rules that’ll monitor their teen’s phone usage. The rules can be things like no phones after 11pm on weekdays or no social media on holidays that everyone in the family must abide by, even the parents. The rules in this agreement should be determined by the activities and responsibilities they need to accomplish, like sports practices or SAT Prep, before getting free time to use their devices. Wayne says to be prepared for pushback because in most cases, your teen won’t want to have any limitations on their screen time and will resist having to abide by an agreement. While there is plenty of room for negotiation between parent and teen in the Family Tech Agreement, listen in to hear how to maintain your authority while creating an Agreement that will reduce the average teen screen time.

Parental Control

In this episode, Wayne discusses how it’s not only important to limit average teen screen time, you also need to keep a watch on what your teen is consuming. It’s unpleasant to think that your teen is watching unwholesome videos or exchanging unsavory texts with people you don’t want them talking to—but it’s reality. The world wide web is a dark place where unmentionable things happen to unassuming teens every day. Because of this, there are plenty of parental control apps you can use to see what websites your teen is viewing as well as location apps to track their whereabouts.

At first thought, you might find these parental control apps to be invasive. You trust that your kid isn’t looking at inappropriate things and if they know you’re monitoring what they do online, they’ll think you don’t trust them. While it’s great that you trust your kid is only using their phone to look at pictures of puppies and send their grandmother nice emails on her birthday, you may be giving them too much credit. Even the most responsible teens come across websites with illicit or salacious content, whether on accident or intentionally. There are a myriad of risky things they can come across, like websites that’ll give them viruses, porn sites that operate under unassuming pseudonyms, or even websites that will sneakily take money from your teen. Wayne's insists that you explain to your teen that you’re using parental control apps not to be intrusive but to keep them safe from content and people they simply shouldn’t have to put up with. In the episode, Wayne talks further about how to have open and honest conversations with teens about the dangers of technology.

On top of basic guidelines and approaches parents can bring into their to homes to limit the average teen screen time, Wayne also covers difficult topics like:
  • Adjusting Screen Time Hours During the Pandemic
  • What to do if a Teen gets Defiant about Screen Time Limits
  • What to do if your Teen becomes an Online Sensation
  • How to talk about the Big P—pornography
Technology is an integral part of family life in the 21st century, and it’s here to stay. However, overreliance on technology can be a barrier to a teen’s success in school and extracurriculars. Whether you need help reigning in the average teen screen time or just want a good set of guidelines to follow, Joshua Wayne offers some excellent insights on how parents can adjust to technology in the modern age in this episode.

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Joshua Wayne
Joshua Wayne
Family Coach & Youth Mentor | Helping Struggling Teens Become Successful Young Adults
Ep 84: Contain Your Teen’s Tech
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