Teens And Screens: A New Guide Helps Parents Navigate Children’s Relationship To Technology

“When I ask parents ‘How many of you spent more time outside, playing games than you think your child does now?’ all the hands go up.”

By Laura RiceAugust 1, 2018 12:38 pm,

Somewhere near the top of the list of things that cause parents anxiety – beyond the obvious stresses of keeping a child alive and well – are concerns about how to parent in a world with constantly-changing technology.

For parents trying to navigate screen time, cyberbullying and sexting, a couple of Texas experts have written a guide for families. Dr. Mike Brooks is a psychologist practicing in Austin. He’s the coauthor of “Tech Generation: Raising Balanced Kids in a Hyper-Connected World.”

He and coauthor John Lasser compiled composite stories from their encounters as practitioners and parents. Lasser says the recurring theme they’ve found, through their work and in their personal lives, is a high level of concern about the ways technology impacts children.

Brooks himself is a gamer. He recognizes the worlds he can explore through that hobby as one of many benefits technology has to offer. But he also recognizes how the pros and cons of screen time are intrinsically bound together.

“You can’t have one without the other,” Brooks says. “We’re about a balanced use. We don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water… but we need to be mindful of our technology, because it’s permeating our lives and with it can come a host of problems.”

Brooks and Lasser are careful to avoid prescriptive technology time limits or set-in-stone how-to’s in their book. That stems from the recognition that what works for one child, almost never works for another. Parenting has to be a flexible process, specific to the situation.

They use a traffic light analogy to quantify relationships with technology: green for healthy, yellow for somewhat problematic and red for “in need of an intervention.” What places a child in that red category are instances where technology is actually causing them harm. Chronic sleep deprivation, failing classes, little to no in-person social interactions and even stealing, are all examples Brooks gives for a child in the red zone.

“No matter what the benefits of our technology, when it’s pushing out other need satisfying activities, there’s going to be a cost.” Brooks says. “From an evolutionary perspective, the brain still wants the in-person connections – the smiles, the laughs. Emojis can’t replace those things.”

But this is an issue that goes both ways. Brooks presents to parents about their own technology use as well, citing the sorrow he has experienced from children who feel they aren’t getting the attention they hunger for. He uses mealtime as one small example of sacred face-to-face opportunity that’s diminished if cell phones are present.

“To the extent that we use technology to facilitate and enhance our in-person connections, we’re going to benefit from them. When it starts to replace or displace our in-person connections, then we’re going to suffer for it, so we need to protect ourselves.” Brooks says.

Written by Sarah Yoakley.