An important part of working with families as an educationalist over many years is teaching clients how to bring balance into the lives of their children, including allowing some time for PC games and/or to chat online if this is important for a child.
I discuss family matters on a case by case basis, and talk about the importance of providing plenty of variety in their lives, from the activities that they do together, the foods they prepare and consume, to the topics they raise for discussion.
The eventual aim of parents is to guide and educate their child towards independence and to become increasingly self-reliant. The tips in this article are designed not to replace the many varied parenting styles families use, but to provide suggestions that might be beneficial for family interaction and coping with stages of development that tweens and young teenagers, especially, go through.
Reducing Time on Screens and PC Games
I have been struck many times by how many fun activities parents can do together in the early stages of their children’s development when they are “pre-tweens” – playing backyard cricket and soccer and later joining club-sports, going to the park, visiting friends, baking in the kitchen, learning about simple math measurements, playing the piano, playing the drums.[alert variation=”alert-info”]Many families spend time reading books together, learning the alphabet, watching children’s shows on the TV, and playing board games.[/alert]
They might play computer games, go camping, teach each other about their likes and dislikes, or just be happy to play and live in the moment. Other families have reported to me that their children willingly learn simple household chores, such as sweeping the patio, putting away the groceries, tidying their room, bring in the bins. Up until the age of nine or 10, parents have tended to relay to me their happy family times with the occasional upheaval that is generally manageable.
From the later years of primary school to the early years of secondary school, I began to notice minor changes occurring among client families as their children showed signs of maturing and presenting more challenging behavior.
For example, in one family, an 11-year-old gave up learning the piano, much to his mother’s dismay, and, once an avid reader, increasingly consumed hours playing PC games. In another family, a 12-year-old, while keeping up with club-sports, also increasingly succumbed to spending as much of his free time in front of screens as he could.
Rarely did either child switch off the screen without frequent requests from a parent. One mother became more and more frustrated with having to ask her tween son to find something else to do after choosing to chat online for several hours. She became worried and unhappy that where seeking her son’s help with a household chore once took only a simple request, now it had become a tedious, drawn-out plea. Her suggestions to get on with finishing his homework quickly, her willingness to help him learn about how to do experiments for a science project, or her invitations to play cards or table-tennis or to go to the park, fell on deaf ears.
Tweens and Teens Need Planning, Gentle Motivation and Encouragement, Not Judgment
With the advent of PC games and increased online sites, mothers and fathers have reported anecdotally that their children spent a lot less time reading and being with the family, and instead, a lot more time responding to the lure of screens and PC games. Where one parent might have encouraged, cajoled, bribed, and eventually shouted at her child to switch off the screen, another might have nagged or “lectured” ad nauseam – but to no avail.
Instead, they would wind up angry and hurt, and ready to give up on their child. Most parents love and cherish their children and understand that there is more to life than sitting in front of screens.
Many tween eight to 12 years olds, and young teenagers generally, experience dramatic changes in their internal lives, not to mention the rapid physical stages of development that their brain and body undergoes. They don’t need their mother judging them about how they should spend every minute of their time. Some children suffer inner turmoil and increased stress that they can neither understand nor describe. Their attempts at expressing their feelings and emotions are often regarded as crude and rude, and for this reason, may not be well received.
[blockquote]Everything from homework to communicating their emotions and feelings, particularly if they are angry, sad, stressed, or viewed as negative, seems to be a huge, exhausting, and daunting task.[/blockquote]
Feelings of inadequacy and guilt that may arise due to being unable to drag themselves away from PC games or screens generally, as repeatedly requested by parents, can be overwhelming. Unconditional love, patience, encouragement, motivation, and lots of cuddles are what’s required for their happiness and well-being during this stage of development.
[icons icon=”alert” color=”#dd3333″]How to Approach the Issue of PC Games With Understanding
There should be a balance between PC games and all the other weekly activities, while important to most parents also, to some extent, defines you. You view your child’s compulsion to watch screens all day if left to his own devices as a reflection on you, the parent.
You interpret your child’s lack of enthusiasm for the things you used to do together as a lack of respect for you, and you may feel disappointed and/or embarrassed. But you need to take stock and reconsider seeing your child’s behaviour, his stresses, and his emotional development only in terms of how these things affect you.
As a parent you mean well when you ask your child to switch off – research shows that too much screen time can lead to obesity and lower grades at school.
But a child may well hear your loving attempts and well-meaning requests as reproachful criticism. When a person feels criticized or judged, harassed or scolded, he may become defensive and refuse to “give in” especially if his pride is hurt; he is no longer a happy, confident individual. The more you focus on getting him off PC games, the more likely he will resist and be unhappy, and end up resenting you.
Give Love and Respect: Encourage Kids to Self-Regulate
Sitting in front of screens for long periods of time over many years can lead to obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. As parents you do not want this for your child, tween, or teenager, ever. While it is your responsibility to lay the foundations for good lifestyle choices in their childhood and to encourage a sense of learning and enquiry about the world as they move through their years of education at school, it is, in the end, their lives, not yours.
They may be as unhappy as you about their obsession with screens right now. But their experience of your disapproval undermines their ability to change their behavior, and this affects their level of happiness and well-being.[alert variation=”alert-info”]Things are unlikely to change until you love and respect your child as he is; it starts with you![/alert]
Once he begins to believe that your love and respect for him is genuine, you might notice small but significant changes in his behavior. Give up the “nagging” and “lecturing” that only adds to his stress. Concentrate on enjoying each other, on having fun together, on celebrating achievements however small, and on loving and respecting him for who he is.
Encourage your child’s respective sports and other extra-curricular activities such as music or theatre, where he can develop talents, coordination, social skills, sportsmanship, and the attributes of being a team-player or a leader. This teaches him lifelong skills that will stand him in good stead in years to come. Consider these tips;
- Focus on enjoying things together and individually, be mindful, in the here and now.
- Continue monitoring screen-viewing but keep your monitoring in perspective, and do so with gentle motivation, encouragement, and in a non-judgmental way.
- Keep a check on your self-righteous attitude.
- Listen carefully to your child’s desires, suggestions, and explanations.
- Give him opportunities to do alternative activities – buy a trampoline, suggest going to a movie, or join him up to a club that suits his interests if he agrees, so he can explore and discover himself as a unique and independent individual.
Tweens and young teenagers are developing a sense of independence; they question where they fit socially at school and with their friends, and do so apart from their families.
If you notice your child reducing his screen time and making efforts – however small – to find alternative activities, don’t be too eager – remove the anxiety and intensity from the topic of PC games.
The Teenager’s Tussle for “Screen-Free Time” is His Own
Identifying ways to reduce the time your child spends playing PC games, chatting online and viewing screens generally, takes planning, and plenty of time and patience. You may feel frustrated with your tween or young teenager’s unwillingness to learn away from screens, worried about his increased stress levels and his search for identity and independence, or unhappy with your young teenager’s changing behavior at this stage of his development. You may feel embarrassed and/or disappointed that he chooses to spend so much time playing PC games or chatting online often at the expense of completing his homework and/or fulfilling his designated family chores.
But your teen needs your encouragement and gentle motivation, not your judgment.
He needs you to know that everything – from homework to experiencing increased stress levels – is daunting and exhausting and is affecting his health and well-being.
He himself may feel inadequate and guilty for slipping up when asked to reduce time spent on PC games. His experience of your disapproval is likely to affect his confidence and happiness, and hinder his desire to change his behavior around PC games.
This period in your lives will pass. If you avoid making an issue out of it, your tween or young teenager will almost certainly begin to enjoy a world with more “screen free” time which he will come to monitor in his own way and in his own time.