Last week, I was at a talk about risky adolescent behavior and one of the parents asked, “So what makes this so different from when we were kids? We all did the same stuff. Why is this such a big deal?”
A lot of parents are asking that same question, and the answer can be tied back to a recent conversation that I had with my 10-year old.
“Why don’t You invite one of your friends over?”
“They won’t want to come over here. I don’t want them to be bored and you won’t let us do video games. I don’t know how else to entertain them.”
So how do these conversations connect? Kids are growing up in a different world than we did, so natural “risky teenage behaviors” are leading to longer term problems.
Lately, there has been a tendency to blame cell phones and video games, but just like cars, electronic devices are tools. Yes, they can be dangerous, but they can also be amazing. Just like we can’t just hand our kids the keys to the car, we need to teach kids how to use electronic devices.
But just as important, we need to understand what the things were that contributed to our mental health before these electronics were an issue. Let’s get back to the basics so we can understand how to raise healthy children.
#1: Unstructured time/ Limiting electronics
In our modern world, kids time seems to fall into two categories: 1) structured activities meant to create an impressive resume or college application and 2) engaging with electronic devices. In fact, one feeds upon the other. As we juggle the logistics of scheduling each activity, we are left exhausted and vulnerable to their constant requests for video games, social media, and phones. Unstructured time without electronics is critical to the development of so many high level thinking skills, including creativity, communication, and problem solving.
#2: Real-life emotional supports
Predators troll the internet looking for kids who are emotionally fragile, and it is through the support that they offer that they are able to engage. Teens naturally pull away from their parents as a part of the development of healthy independence. However, it is critical when they do that they have other mentors who can provide them with the emotional support and guidance that they need so that they don’t seek that support in unhealthy ways.
#3: Opportunities for finding purpose (pride, gratitude, & empathy)
Viktor Frankl once said, “success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.” In our quest to make our children “happy,” we have lost sight of how important purpose is. By guiding our kids to find something that makes them feel useful and needed, we can help them to avoid that feeling of helplessness.
#4: Use challenges as opportunities to build resilience
One of my favorite sayings is, “Self-esteem is not a gift that you can give to kids, it is a neurochemical response you rob them of every time you do something for them that they can do themselves.” Every challenge offers an opportunity to teach resilience, but we need to give kids opportunities to experience those challenges and learn from them.
#5: Mindful Meditation
Yancey Strickler, CEO of Kickstarter said, “It’s not hard for me to imagine that in 20 years from now we find that what social media does to our brains is equivalent to what smoking does to our lungs”. Yes, it is that bad. And every bit of neuroscience is showing that mindful meditation is a form of healing for the brain.
We are at a critical point right now. We are beginning to recognize the problems that electronics can bring. But before we demonize phones, let’s understand how we can raise our kids to use these tools effectively.