Since the pandemic began, I have heard more and more frequently that parents are concerned about phone time. This, the amount of time their children spend engaged with their phones. It is not just phones but computers as well.
Granted, there are many fine things to do on the phone. Apps, games, social media, the ability to see the world. There is some value. My daughter has most of her schoolwork assigned and completed via the phone or tablet. What becomes worrisome is when I asked a student what they would be doing outside of class.
The young man said he would be running track in spring. I think that is great. He shared further that many practices are done by 4:30pm. “So for the rest of your afternoons? And weekends? Anything you will be doing?” I asked. He replied, “No,” telling me that he’d come home after school and had nothing planned for the weekends.
Hearing this makes me shiver. I thought he’d greatly benefit from having at least one other thing in his life to learn and grow from, as well as build a greater sense of connection and competency.
When I asked him if he had any other activities he enjoyed, he said he did not have any. I threw out some ideas like a small job, volunteering, a club after school, or a musical instrument or another sport.
I was not getting a yes to any of my suggestions. I’ve heard this same story time and again from children that I work with, their parents and my own daughter and her classmates. Even though research has shown that having extracurricular experiences improves well-being and feelings of competence, there isn’t a push to be more involved. In addition, it would naturally result in a little more balance with screen time.
To start to try and help our children, suggest that your teen devote a couple of weeks to try and find something he/she was interested in. Reinforce what they plan to do away from their devices as well. I have been involved in education for 28 years, many of those as a coach as well. I firmly believe that kids should all have at least two activities that they are doing outside of class time. There can be obstacles to this, one of which is if a young person is not motivated to find or create something to do.
So what to do when our middle and high schoolers aren’t doing much outside of school and are resistant to finding something to get involved in?
Below, is some great advice from Laura Kastner, Ph.D., an adolescent clinical psychologist and the author. Dr. Kastner recently wrote an article in ParentMap, on this topic.
Dr. Kastner writes that it is essential that we let our kids know that participating in activities is a “basic” requirement, just like we do other basics — eating food, getting good sleep, and studying.
She writes, “Making organized activities a ‘basic’ requirement may take a lot of energy on the parent’s part, but it can yield a huge return on the investment — peer acceptance, new personal interests, and social and emotional skills. Negotiation is a must.“ I couldn’t agree more.
In her article, Kastner describes a typical conversation she has with a parent of a reluctant teen.
“Parent: Well, we insist on the basics. But I thought parents were supposed to give teenagers more independence and choices.
Kastner: You are absolutely right! Often, the hardest part of parenting is picking your battles. Given the advantages associated with extracurricular activities, you might want to consider extracurricular activity as a “basic” and give your teens the choice of which activity they choose, not whether they choose one.
Parent: Last year, I caved when my ninth-grade son refused to play basketball like he did in sixth grade before the pandemic, but he convinced me that he’d just get exercise by working out on his own. It didn’t happen. I was really upset, because I knew he felt lonely and alienated starting in a new high school. I think he’s even less likely to sign up for anything next fall, so how do I motivate him?
Kastner: Motivating reluctant kids comes down to the carrot or the stick — and I favor the carrot. While some parents withhold cell phones or social freedoms — the stick — a better approach is to add a goody — that is, a carrot — such as more screen time, a later curfew or access to something they crave and that you approve of.
Parent: I dread the showdown we’ll have about this. I realize I might be avoiding this confrontation as much as they are avoiding their fears about joining up. They say extracurricular stuff is boring or stupid, but I know it’s more about social awkwardness and feelings of inadequacy. Doing new things is hard. You might be clumsy initially and fear judgment.
Kastner: You are right. Making this agenda a priority requires your courage to deal with your teen’s emotional flooding …It’s best for parents to model confidence, conviction and optimism about committing to this vital agenda, even though the journey might have some bumps…But gaining new friends and competencies is a big payoff!
Parent: So, the bottom line is that those benefits should motivate me to tolerate what might be a tsunami of protest. Yikes! No wonder I’ve avoided it. But I get it — organized activities get them off the couch, away from the cell phones and involved with good influences.”