I have always found that when engaging with youth and teens about ways to prevent excessive screen time, it works extremely well to give examples of what other young people do. So this TTT could really help you in having a great conversation this week with youth in your life.
(*Remember to look for the printer icon on the left-hand side of this page and you can generate a printer-friendly version. Click any images you don’t want to print and they’ll disappear before printing. Then, you can bring the blog to the dinner table or wherever you can have a short calm conversation about tech with your children or students).
Last week at a screening near Chicago of Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER a high school boy raised his hand and said, “I try to get stuff done, but I keep being distracted by screen stuff, what can I do to prevent this?”
I responded by asking him a question, “I’m curious, is there anything you have tried?” (I always try to ask, in a very respectful tone and non-judgemental way, for ideas youth have on questions they have just posed. It not only gets their brain thinking of solutions – but so often the audience gets great insights from their answers). In this particular situation, the student said he could not think of anything offhand that he had tried.
I suggested a few that I had heard from other teens. And I am adding those and several others here:
Use tech to manage tech. The other day my son, Chase – who is in college, told me that he uses a web extension to stay on track. He emailed me this info about it: “It’s called SelfControl and is helpful for staying on task as it completely blocks any site you want (i.e. Facebook) for an allotted time you set. This is quite helpful for reducing temptation.”
Unfollow things that are a time sink for them. They’ll stop following “satisfying videos” sites also known as “oddly satisfying videos.” Soap cutting, baking, playing with slime, eggshell crushing, paint mixing, etc. fall into this category.
Make themselves accountable. They may do this by telling a friend or a parent or posting on social media about a new goal for the week – then promise themselves they will report back how they fared that week in attaining the goal.
Turn off notifications. They’ll turn off post notifications on Instagram or Snapchat.
Decide not to get social media in the first place. The other day I was talking with teens about Snapchat vs. Instagram and a 9th-grade girl told me she did not have either. \I asked her why and she said, “I don’t want that time sink.” She added that it was not a parent’s decision but truly her own. Another teen girl told me she is not going to download Tik Tok for she is sure it will be “too much of a time suck.”
Remove their devices at night. The day after I spoke at a screening of NEXT CHAPTER, which looks at the concerning state of sleep in teens, a mom told me that her daughter, who no longer lives with her but who came with her to the screening, called her the next day to say she decided to keep her phone out of her bedroom and she slept noticeably better.
Put their own limits on their phones. Teens often tell me that with setups like “ScreenTime” on their phone, they only use social media for 1 or 2 hours a day — and they are happy to have that hard-set limit.
Remove games from their tablet or phone. This simple action reduces temptation.
Replace “online” with “in-life.” In Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER we hear from a sweet middle schooler who talks about playing a lot of video games in 8th grade and one day he stopped and asked himself, “Am I really enjoying this, am I happy?” which prompted him to call a friend and go out and skateboard which he now does a lot more and it makes him really happy.
Purposely get grounded from their phone. No joke, I have heard from teens and tweens how they pushed their family screen rules in part to get their phone taken away (for a few days) so they could have a break from their phone but could blame not being able to respond to friends on their parents. Yes, this is rare but it is good food for discussion.
Here are a couple of questions to get a conversation started for this week’s Tech Talk Tuesday:
When you realize that you have spent too much time on your screen, what gives you the power to stop?
Let’s all pick one of the ideas above to try. But first, try to measure how much time you spend on the screen now. Then, compare that to the amount you spend when you try one of the hacks.
Are youth more lonely now than in the past? I often wonder if this is true, especially when you see a group of teenagers hanging out together looking down at their phones.
We do know from Jean Twenge’s analysis of past surveys that adolescents’ feelings of loneliness increased sharply after 2011, which of course is when screen time was becoming more ubiquitous. And in her paper, Twenge reported that “adolescents low in in-person social interaction and high in social media use reported the most loneliness.”
Twenge is analyzing surveys of teens in 8th, 10th and 12th grades done year after year. In 2011 when asked if they agreed with the statement “A lot of times I feel lonely” 25% reported (the average of all grades combined) that they “mostly agreed or agreed.” Then, in 2015 that number went up to 31%. The 25% figure was fairly constant for the preceding 10 years and the 31% is the highest level since the survey began in 1991.
Loneliness is an emotion, and our emotions exist to teach us things. They give us information about our experience in the present moment. In the best case scenario, they are a buzzer that activates us to make a change. So if we have a sense that we are missing the company of others, i.e. a sense of loneliness, it is a signal to try to do something at that moment to lessen that unpleasant feeling. Maybe it’s to make plans or to do something in the future to reduce the feeling. Or, sometimes the best thing to do is just to sit with the emotion because there is nothing you can do about it. It is important that we talk to our kids about these feelings and discuss ways we can gain skills to manage them when they inevitably arise – and also assure them the feeling will pass.
What types of loneliness do you and your kids experience? There are many different variations. Here are some examples.
No close friends loneliness. Maybe you have many acquaintances on social media or in your community but no close friends, no one to tell secrets to.
I’m different loneliness. Perhaps you feel lonely because you are unhappy with how you look, your sexual orientation, or just a deep-seated feeling of not belonging.
Left out loneliness. This can be just seeing others doing things on social media or hearing about things at school that you were not a part of. You are experiencing loneliness from feeling like you are left out.
What does this mean for our teens and tweens? Are our teens lonely? Do they feel social on social media but, in reality, some more profound need is not being met? The more our kids interact with each other and adults in person instead of through their phones, the better off they will be. This means that we need to help them have times throughout their day when they put the phone down. At home, this can be screen-free dinners or family game nights. Without family, it can be collecting phones when friends come over. Or encouraging participation in sports or other activities that do not allow phones.
An interesting article about teenagers and their screen usage even when you take their phones away!
The Real Story of Valentine’s Day
This week we celebrate Valentine’s Day, a day when Americans focus on love and romance. But most of those celebrating don’t know that the man for whom this day is named was a Christian persecuted because of his Christian actions.
The following is adapted from the “Note to Parents and Educators” included in VALENTINE: God’s Courageous Evangelist, a book published by VOM as part of The Courageous Series for children that tells the true stories of heroes of the Christian faith such as St. Valentine.
Valentine’s Day is celebrated every year on Feb. 14, but why?
Many buy cards and candied hearts and yet have only a vague idea that there was a real man — a Christian — named Valentine. Who was the man behind this holiday now known for cupids, chocolate and roses?
Valentine, or Valentinus as he was known, was a leader in the church and lived in the Roman Empire during the third century. However, there are three Valentines who are noted as having lived in the late third century during Emperor Claudius II’s reign. One was a priest in Rome, another a bishop of Interamna (modern Terni, Italy) and the third a martyr in a Roman province of Africa. Some believe the martyrdom of all three men named Valentinus occurred on Feb. 14. Many scholars believe two of them, the priest in Rome and the bishop of Interamna, are the same, suggesting the bishop of Interamna was a Roman priest who became bishop and was sentenced there and brought to Rome for his execution. It is believed that Valentinus’s martyrdom occurred about the year A.D. 269.
Though some have questioned the existence of Valentinus, archaeologists have unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to him. He is also mentioned in Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend, written about saints around the year 1260. (This is thought to have been one of the most widely read books after the Bible during the late Middle Ages.) He is also featured in a woodcut in an illustrated book called The Nuremberg Chronicle, which was printed in 1493.
Sources indicate that Emperor Claudius II had Valentinus executed for secretly marrying Roman soldiers, defying an order from the emperor that soldiers were not allowed to marry. Claudius (also called Claudius the Cruel) was having difficulty recruiting soldiers and believed Roman men were unwilling to leave their loved ones because soldiers were required to fight for at least 25 years. Therefore, Claudius banned all marriages and engagements. However, Valentinus secretly married couples until he was apprehended and brought before the Prefect of Rome. It is even believed that Valentinus tried to convert Emperor Claudius. In VALENTINE: God’s Courageous Evangelist, the conversation between Emperor Claudius and Valentinus is based on the one printed in de Voragine’s Golden Legend. Another legend says that during Valentinus’s imprisonment, while awaiting his execution, he restored the sight of his jailer’s daughter. Yet another says on the eve of his death, he wrote a note to the jailer’s daughter and signed it “From your Valentine.”
In A.D. 496, more than 200 years after Valentinus was executed, a church leader marked Feb. 14 as a day to honor Valentinus’s courageous life, replacing a pagan Roman holiday on that same date. Feb. 14 was the day the Romans honored Juno, the Queen of the Roman gods and goddesses who was also known as the goddess of women and marriage. The following day, Feb. 15, started the Feast of Lupercalia, which honored Faunus, the god of fertility and forests. On the eve of Lupercalia, the names of Roman girls were written on pieces of paper and placed in jars. Young men would draw a girl’s name and be partnered with that girl throughout the festival. Sometimes this pairing lasted the whole year, and often they would fall in love and later marry. And what about cupid? Why does his image appear during Valentine’s Day? Cupid was the Roman god of love.
Despite the mystery, legends and questions masking the man Valentine, VALENTINE: God’s Courageous Evangelist was written to convey his courageous life and death. May his story inspire children of all ages to boldly present Jesus Christ to a world in need of His hope (1 Peter 3:15)!
An article I read today:
Last week The New York Times ran a story titled, “The Digital Gap Between the Rich and Poor Kids is Not What We Expected.” Research shows that low-income kids spend about 2 hours more a day on screens outside of school—due to many factors, such as less access to after school enriching experiences. The article looks at concerns that lower-income public schools will become screen saturated, while private schools will have more resources for less screen saturation.
The author writes about how affluent parents, generally with students in private schools, are demanding less screen time in school. The reality is, it is not only wealthy parents that are raising concerns about the amount of screen time in schools, but parents from all socioeconomic backgrounds are doing so.
Fact: Schools experience pressure to have tech on their campuses from tech companies, administration, and others. Schools want to do well by their students and tech has been sold as a quick fix. For example, schools keep hearing from tech and curriculum companies that ways to “personalize and customize learning” is right around the corner. Unfortunately, it has been a very long corner with no impressive results yet.
A quick fix example in the NYT article that shocked me is that Utah is rolling out an online preschool, which 10,000 children are enrolled thus far—no joke. Given that Utah lacks a state-funded traditional preschool program, one can see how the screen has stepped in.
Older students know when screen time is not adding value. Two weeks ago I was speaking at a large education conference where I heard this often. For example, a high school World History teacher said that whenever he introduces a computer-based program, students immediately chime in and ask, “What is the purpose of it, why even do it online?”
Let’s look at the situation around cell phones. My team and I conducted a national survey last year about cell phones in schools where we found that public middle schools are much more likely to allow students to carry phones all day (66%) compared to private schools (34%) where phones are kept in lockers or backpacks. When students are allowed to carry their phones, research shows they are much more likely to sneak them in class. There is no judgment here—they are not bad students if they sneak—it is just very hard for some students to resist the pull of everything happening on their personal phone. Research shows grades and emotional well being are improved with the policies that private schools are doing more often.
Last week I spoke to Kristina Rodgers, the principal at my daughter’s public high school in Seattle where they changed their cell phone policy this year to ban access during class. She said the new rule has been easy to enforce and the results are apparent by the way kids are focusing more than before. At the recent curriculum night, parents burst out in applause when the new policy was mentioned.
Rodgers told me how discouraging it is that her school is the only public high school out of 12 in the area that has her policy while several of the elite private high schools in the area have banned phones during class time.
SOME NEW RESEARCH OUT I WANTED TO SHARE WITH YOU!!
Handheld screen time linked with speech delays in young children
Researchers will present the abstract “Is handheld screen time use associated with language delay in infants?” on Saturday, May 6 at the Moscone West Convention Center in San Francisco. The study included 894 children between ages 6 months and 2 years participating in TARGet Kids!, a practice-based research network in Toronto between 2011 and 2015.
By their 18-month checkups, 20% of the children had daily average handheld device use of 28 minutes, according to their parents. Based on a screening tool for language delay, researchers found that the more handheld screen time a child’s parent reported, the more likely the child was to have delays in expressive speech. For each 30-minute increase in handheld screen time, researchers found a 49% increased risk of expressive speech delay. There was no apparent link between handheld device screen time and other communications delays, such as social interactions, body language or gestures.
“Handheld devices are everywhere these days,” said Dr. Catherine Birken, M.D., MSc., FRCPC, FAAP, the study’s principal investigator and a staff pediatrician and scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). “While new pediatric guidelines suggest limiting screen time for babies and toddlers, we believe that the use of smartphones and tablets with young children has become quite common. This is the first study to report an association between handheld screen time and increased risk of expressive language delay.”
Dr. Birken said the results support a recent policy recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics to discourage most types of screen media in children younger than 18 months. More research is needed, she said, to understand the type and contents of screen activities infants are engaging in to further explore mechanisms behind the apparent link between handheld screen time and speech delay, such as time spent together with parents on handheld devices, and to understand the impact on in-depth and longer-term communication outcomes in early childhood.
I promised to tell you what I learned at the National Catholic Conference of Youth Ministers. The seminar that I think you would be most interested in is “How to build sticky families.” This is referring to how they suggest you raise children to “stick” with their faith.
One thing was very clear from the research: When it comes to their children’s faith, parents get what they ARE. They studied children aged 15 – 17 and followed them through their adult years. If the parents gave little importance to religion and spiritual growth, only 1% were still involved in a religion as an adult.
If the families talked about their faith, showed that they felt their faith was important and were personally active in their faith – 82% were still involved in faith practices as adults.
That is a pretty powerful statement!
When I was raising my children they told me that peers were more important to my children than I was. With today’s youth that is not true. Youth ages 12 – 16 are very interested and concerned about their parent’s opinions and approval. When they are difficult or temperamental, our culture tells us to let them go to their peers and “wait out the storm”. But truthfully they need us more than ever when they are navigating the “storm” of school, hormones, homework and relationships. For this reason and because the data supports it, we need to be spending as much time with our families as we can. Now, that being said I know what you are thinking. “I’m trying!! I’m really trying to spend quality time with my children but the schedule is crazy, my marriage is stressed, my job is taxing…etc.” Believe me – I know! What today’s experts are proposing is to make better use of the time you already have now.
Discussions need to be happening in those places and times that we already have with our children but aren’t recognizing as “prime time”. My next entry I will tell you about some suggestions, but before we start that discussion, I need to ask you a question. Do you feel comfortable talking to your children about your faith? Because in order for these “family encounters” to happen, you are going to need to be open and honest with your children about what you believe. Start thinking about topics that you feel strongly about with regards to your faith: How important is loving your neighbor? What does that look like in your families world? Where do prayer, faith practices such as mass and classes fit into our priorities as a family? What does a “Christian Family” look like in today’s world? Or what should it look like? How are we helping right now to build The Kingdom of God here on earth? These questions will start you “thinking theologically” – but basically the trick is to bring God into all of your discussions. The individual questions that come up that you can’t answer are good opportunities for you to show your children that you are also open to learning about your faith – email Fr. Tom , Fr. Derrik or myself and we will give you the support you need.
Next blog….The “prime times”.
THE “PRIME TIMES”
When I was at the National Catholic Conference of Youth Ministry I got some news that gladdened my heart. 50 – 55% of Christian parents are having dinner together on a regular basis. 62% gather together occasionally for game night/activities or discussions. And 79% of Catholic parents are married. These are good statistics and give us hope of being able to keep families “stuck” to each other and to their faith.
It also gives us a basis for the “prime time’s for parents to bring faith and the principles of Jesus into the conversations. Here are a few of their suggestions:
- Dinner times: Along with talking about the “high’s and low’s” of their days (or whatever conversation starter you use in your family) be alert to the things where the principles Jesus taught could be reinforced or explained. For instance if someone saw something that upset them that day, a conversation about what they think Jesus would have done might be a good way to get them to think about how Jesus’s teaching are not just for how they behave in religion class or church but how they are supposed to live out their lives in the secular world. Listen also for the things that they say were the lows: Perhaps you can remind them how much God loves them even in the bad times and how God is always nearby in times of trouble. Even how you remember times when you needed to remember God in your early years, or how you need to remind yourself of it even now in tough times. These worries and problems are also a great reason to end meals with a prayer for all the issues that were brought up in the conversation. None of this is complicated….it’s just inviting God to the table with you. Maybe a bit awkward at first, but do-able. If you flinch as you talk or feel uncomfortable, remember it’s a secular society that has taught you that it’s not appropriate to talk about faith or politics with others. But these children are not “others”, they are “ours” – and we need them to know that they are never alone in the world. That even when they can’t be with us, they are still in the presence of Jesus. In truth, shouldn’t our dinner conversations differ from the conversations of those who don’t believe?
- Car time: Here is an opportunity for a “captive audience”. Talk about what faith traditions you did as a child. Talk about new traditions you can start during the next religious holiday coming up. Talk about your plans for the next vacation and how you hope Jesus will keep you all safe and happy together. Whatever is on your heart, talk about it to them and bring Jesus into it. Some families have prayer cards in their car from saints that reflect the hobbies or loves or talents of the children and they pray each child’s prayer card on the way to school or home. There are patron saints for just about everything under the sun – google some for your children to learn about. Maybe the kids can take turns writing a prayer for the ride to school each day. It never hurts to drop them off at a scary place like school with the reassurance that you and Jesus both love them very much.
- Walk the dog/do the dishes – anything that keeps you in close proximity to them but requires you to do something with your hands or feet. It is often uncomfortable for people to talk about things face to face. But on a walk, sometimes things will come out. Or when you are standing next to each other working on the dishes, issues can come out easier. If you purposely placer yourself beside them, you can be ready and available to talk about things of importance and give wise counsel. (This is bad news for me who wants to sit down for a little Facebook time after dinner while the children do the dishes…but the concept is correct. Proximity and activity combined make for a feeling of accessibility. Accessibility is the key to good relationships.) The presenter said something that set me back a step: She said is not about how accessible you think you are to your children, it is about how accessible THEY feel you are and direct proximity is the keep to that! The presenter recommended once a month dates with each child and/or family meetings each Sunday over brownies to discuss everyone’s schedule for the week.
- After Mass: If you ask about the sermon – they will listen next time! I would have hated it if my parents did this, but I think it’s a great idea! I get to tell my children what I thought of during the mass, how the readings related to my life, what I thought about the sermon, and then I ask them and they have to reflect and process what they heard and saw. It doesn’t all have to be about the readings and the mass – it could be that someone remembered a family member during mass, or missed someone who is deceased. They are sitting there for an hour, so find out what is going on in their heads and the next time they will pay more attention to what was said, what they were thinking about, and what feelings they felt etc. Don’t let them just tune out…. church is one of the few quiet times they have without their social media devices. Help them to learn to listen for God during that hour of prayer.
- Sacraments: Make sacraments a big deal. All of them! What we are talking about in these suggestions is ways that you can show your children the outward signs of your faith in God. Things they won’t know exist until you show them or tell them. I had no idea my mother was such a woman of faith until I was older and she started sharing books with me and telling me stories about how God talked to her in her prayer life. Since Sacraments are the outward signs of God’s love for us! We should celebrate these like crazy!
- Take them with you when you volunteer: If you are an usher, let them sit by you in the back and explain your job to them. If you are a Eucharistic Minister, explain why you signed up for that and what your job is. Take them with you to the Fish Fry to work. Help them bake things for a charity bake sale. Spend a couple Saturdays a year working at the local food shelf or visiting a nursing home ( I know your weekends are precious, but working for the benefit of someone who has things worse than you, can help remind you to feel grateful for what God has given you and it always makes my heart feel lighter on the way home! Much more rewarding than buying groceries or cleaning the house – or at least that’s what I tell my husband. :-)) The opportunities for service are endless in our world. Find what you like, explain why you want to do it to them, and then take them with you. On the way back, discuss what you got out of it, how you felt, and find out what they are feeling. Even if it wasn’t a great experience, talk about that too and then try something else. It’s the idea that Jesus asks us to give of ourselves for the good of others that you are teaching them about – and finding what everyone’s gifts and talents are can be a great adventure for the family and a testimony to the uniqueness of each of us and the unique calling that each one of us has to serve.
FINALLY: Remember that you are doing the very best you can and cut yourself some slack if it takes a while to get these things comfortable for you. I’m confident you are giving it your all which means you are doing a great job of parenting. What the researchers are suggesting is more of a fine-tuning of the things you are already doing. When I had a child that gave me a run for my money, I got advice from everyone I could! I went to seminars, I read online articles, I asked people’s advice. Because of that I was able to have lots of tools to help me parent him in a way that kept him out of trouble and kept me out of the nut-house. Parenting is the toughest job you will ever have – and the most important thing you will ever do for the world.
But remember you are not alone in this! We at the church care about you and your families – not because it’s job security – I’m getting too old to worry about that! But we signed up to do Ministry because we care about parents and children. We are here to support you in whatever family situation you may be in. We do not judge your situation, or your parenting skills. We only offer what information comes our way. We are here to help you answer faith questions – either yours or your children’s. We do this work because this is what God called us to do, and we take our mission to help you very seriously. I will add things to this as I remember them and I will also look for some resources for you. In the meantime, I hold you in my prayers and in my heart. ginny
I am not an expert at raising children, but I am an expert at finding resources to help parents find answers when they have questions. I will be posting links to sites that I have found helpful. If you have a site that you have found helpful that is not listed here, please send a link to me and I will add it here.