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In a generation that places social media “likes” at a higher importance than registering to vote, it’s no surprise that screen technology has become critical to friendship and entertainment. As my father would say, “We have the world at our fingertips.” Not only can we research smart investments, how to cook a Thanksgiving dinner, or recent celebrity exploits, we can escape into social media. The virtual lives of teens can be particularly consuming as they constantly craft and brand their virtual selves. Self-presentation and self-disclosure are among the major reasons teens use social media.[1]

Studies have found that unmanaged screen time can deteriorate real-life interpersonal relationships and can lead to social isolation. This is not to suggest that we must go screen-free. Instead, we at GKIS encourage parents to support their kids and teens to best navigate a positive screen-using experience. Signing up for the Free GKIS Connected Family Agreement is a valuable first step towards learning how to properly monitor technology usage while developing a trusting and loving environment for families.

Our Connected Family Agreement isn’t just a digital contract. It’s a flexible blueprint that will lead your family into important discussions about what to look out for and what’s expected. After all, if we don’t have an agreement and learn to talk about screen use, even sensible management rules won’t make sense. Parents will get mad, and kids will get in trouble too often. None of us want that.

Topics our agreement covers include

  • taking inventory of online activities,
  • how to “love and protect” online as well as offline,
  • how to maintain honesty and transparency,
  • screen smarts and digital permanence,
  • and digital citizenship, online reputation, and netiquette.

When you sign up on our GetKidsInternetSafe home page, you’ll receive the child and teen versions of the Connected Family Agreement in your email. Today’s GKIS article covers issues to keep an eye out for as teens launch their lifetime relationships with tech.

Media Multitasking

Media multitasking is the use of different media simultaneously, for example, listening to music while playing a video game or texting while watching a movie. Research shows that media multitasking can lead to performance decline due to an overload of cognitive resources. Too much time spent in mental brownout can lead to mental illnesses like depression or anxiety. To learn more about media multitasking, check out our GKIS article Smartphones During Homework?

Social Media’s Effects on Friendship

Psychology research has also explored how smartphones affect friendship quality and face-to-face interactions. Here are the findings:

  • People rely heavily on social media to develop and maintain relationships with family and friends.[4]
  • Teens tend to move towards a group that is highly susceptible to negative psychological and behavioral outcomes from social media use.[5]
  • Teens who obsessively engage in self-presentation on social media may be more susceptible to psychological stress.[6]
  • Adolescents who appreciate having greater control over message content may prefer smartphone communication rather than face-to-face because they are allowed more time to edit response when behind a screen.[7]
  • In 2013, college students reported lower feelings of trust and empathetic understanding when there was a smartphone in the room, especially when intimate topics were being discussed.[8]
  • In 2014, women reported that mobile devices frequently interrupted quality time with romantic partners, and the more frequent interruptions, the lower their relationship satisfaction.[9]
  • Some teens seek media to help cope with negative emotional states.[10]
  • Friends who get distracted by their smartphones are more likely to report poor conversations and decreased access to emotional cues, which could reduce their opportunities to build a long-term mature sense of intimacy.[11]
  • Internet use has been associated with depression and suicidal ideation between the ages of 13 and 18.[12]

The distractions imposed by smartphones are of great concern considering that intimacy development is a critical skill in emerging adulthood.[13]

Internalizing Behaviors to Look Out For

Depression and anxiety are among the leading internalizing behavior diagnoses for teens.[14]

Behaviors to look out for include:

  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Feeling sad
  • Feeling lonely
  • Being nervous or irritable
  • Not talking
  • Feeling afraid
  • Having concentration problems
  • Feeling unloved or unwanted
  • Sleeping or eating more or less than usual[15]

What type of parental monitoring leads to the best results?

Research has shown that parental media monitoring can be effective at reducing the negative effects of media.[16]

  • Active monitoring refers to media-based conversations reviewing what content the teen is allowed to view and post.
  • Restrictive monitoring refers to parents imposing restrictions around the amount of screen time teens are allowed.
  • Supportive restrictive media monitoring refers to a parent placing limits on their child’s media use but also taking the time to explain why the rule is important and engaging in mutual feedback in setting rules and limits.

Active monitoring is the most effective type or parental monitoring for promoting autonomy (the child making good independent decisions) because the parent encourages open conversation. This approach promotes critical thinking about the differences between the on-screen world and the real world. When a teen can take charge of their media usage, they are better equipped to engage in critical thinking and learn to make decisions about technology based on internalized values, rather than being instructed by their parents.

Autonomy-supportive approaches are associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety. Whereas controlling parenting styles can encourage teens to spend more time on their smartphones as an escape to express themselves. Teens may not feel comfortable enough to open up to their parents and are more likely to internalize problems instead of reaching out to parents for support.

Overall, teens of all ages can benefit from screen-use rules and limits if they are conducted constructively. We encourage parents to allow enough space for their kids to develop their sense of identity and the free will to make their own decisions. With the help of Screen Time in the Mean Time: A Parenting Guide to Get Kids Internet Safe, you can learn how to properly monitor and protect your teens while still allowing a sense of autonomy. Our goal at GKIS is to prevent issues that may come up related to screen use before treatment is necessary.

Thanks to Isabel Campos for her research and help with writing this article.

Although parenting in the digital world may seem impossible, taking time to understand and learn will allow parents to better connect and relate to their teens. Interested in sharing this information and additional findings with other parents? Be sure to follow GKIS on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more.

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

Photo Credits

Photo by Dmitriy Tyukov on Unsplash
Photo by Gian Cescon on Unsplash
Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Unsplash
Photo by Casey Chae on Unsplash

Works Cited

[1](Charoensukmongkol, 2018)

[2](Padilla-Walker, Stockdale, & McLean, 2019)

[3](Abeele, Schouten, & Antheunis,2017)

[4](Charoensukmongkol, 2018)

[5](Charoensukmongkol, 2018)

[6](Charoensukmongkol, 2018)

[7](Abeele, Schouten, & Antheunis,2017)

[8](Przybylski & Weinstein, 2013)

[9](McDaniel, Coyne, 2014)

[10](Padilla-Walker, Stockdale, & McLean, 2019)

[11](Brown, Manago, & Trimble, 2016)

[12](Padilla-Walker, Stockdale, & McLean, 2019)

[13](Padilla-Walker, Stockdale, & McLean, 2019)

[14](National Institute of Mental Health, 2016)

[15](DiMaria, 2018, June 24)

[16](Padilla-Walker, Stockdale, & McLean, 2019)

Isabel Campos
Isabel Campos