As of January 2021, many high schoolers in my counseling practice struggle with balancing entertainment with responsibilities. Since March 2020, students have grown accustom to spending 8+ hours on screens due to online school, socializing with friends, and finding entertainment. Teens and adults alike have been encouraged to spend more and more time online during this pandemic.
One challenge I’ve seen with my high school clients is the ability to step away from gaming, YouTube, Discord, Snapchat, TikTok and any fun online activity and do their homework and responsibilities. They know they need to complete their school work but struggle to make it happen.
Parents are at a loss too. They don’t want to take screens away entirely because that is how their teen socialize with friends and relax after school. And if parents do put up parental blockers on their teen’s devices, the teen just gets around it.
With all these challenges teens and parents are facing it’s natural to feel overwhelmed and frustrated. Here are a few things teens and parents can do to help find more balance in their screen use.
Tips for Teens
1. Focus on your goals
High schoolers, you don’t have to know exactly what you want to be when you grow up. But, it’s good to think about it. It’s good to know your interests and what you would like to do after high school.
Answer the following questions:
What are your academic, personal, social, and life goals?
What do you see for yourself this year, in five years and in 10 years?
What kind of person do you want to be?
What are your desires for life?
Answering these questions can help you learn about your goals and what drives you. Focus on these goals. Focus on how great it will be to move out on your own. How great it will be to learn everything you can about a subject that’s fascinating. Think about all the great things you want to accomplish.
Focus on what you want for yourself, then take action to make it happen. Take small, consistent steps towards your goals every day. In order to move out, you need to pass math. In order to pass math, you need to complete homework rather than play one more game of Valorant.
Taking steps to reach your goals is empowering and exciting. The more steps you take towards your goals, the more balanced your screen use will be.
2. Have Set Times to Study and Relax
The next thing to do is set specific study and relaxing times. Setting specific times helps you stick to them even when we don’t feel like it. If you don’t have access to any entertainment until 7:00 PM, then you are more likely to choose to do homework and complete responsibilities in the time leading up to 7pm.
The reason you should have a set time to game or watch YouTube is because if not, it’s easy to say, “Once I finish my homework, then I can game.” Doing this will most likely lead to rushing to complete homework so you can game. This is natural because gaming is more fun than homework. Giving yourself plenty of undistracted time doing homework will help you be more successful academically and help balance screen use.
3. Make a Plan for Success
We need to be honest with ourselves and do what’s truly going to help us be more balanced in our screen use. Are we doing things that we know is not going to help improve academic performance and completing responsibilities? The following four ideas can help with keeping yourself focused and not as distracted while completing homework
Have a specific work space
Have a specific work device
Do not multi-task
If needed, use apps and website blockers
You can learn more about these ideas here. These ideas can help you improve school performance and keep from being distracted and unproductive.
If you notice you’re not keeping up with your responsibilities and spending more and more time on fun online things, then be okay with making some changes. Again, it’s natural for us to want to choose entertainment over responsibilities. But problems can occur when we don’t complete our tasks.
Set up boundaries that can help you find more balance. Rather than relying only on willpower to make the right choice, use a website blocking software to help you. Freedom is a great one. Again, you are in control, but Freedom can help you be more productive and take away distracting temptations.
4. Be accountable
Finding a healthy balance of entertainment and productive screen time is hard. Another key point is to be accountable for your choices. Ask for support from friends or family to help you.
Also, know there are consequences for your actions. You are responsible for your grades, not your parents. You are responsible for getting things turned in on time, not your teachers. You are responsible for your life. No one else.
High schooler, you can learn to balance your screen use which can help increase your overall well-being. It’s hard. Many adults struggle with balancing screen use. But you are in control of your device and how you interact with it. Make good choices and see the positives that come from it.
Okay, now pass the phone to your mom for the next part.
Tips for Parents
1. Allow Freedom for Your Teen
Parents, you are under a lot of pressure. You see all the problems with your high schooler not making healthy tech choices. You see how successful they could be if they just apply themselves. They are very smart and have so much potential. But they are wasting it through online entertainment.
It’s natural as parents to want to fix the problems we see in our kids. I encourage you to allow your high schooler the freedom to make their own healthy choices.
Let them come up with solutions on how to balance healthy screen use. Let them pick the software to block distracting websites. Let them choose where they study. Doing this gives your teenager ownership of their actions encouraging more buy-in from them. They will more likely make healthy choices if they are the ones in control.
2. Support Rather Than Lead
Ask your high schooler how you can support them in reaching their goals. Again, it’s natural to see an issue with our teenager and fix it. And that can work for younger children. But high schoolers need to start to take more initiative in their health and life. They need to problem-solve and come up with solutions for themselves rather than parents feeding it to them.
We can help them come up with solutions with questions like the following.
What do you think is the best solution?
How is your screen use impacting you?
What does balanced screen use look like for you?
These questions can help your teenager find answers rather than it being given to them.
This idea is all about empowering our teen. We need to help them see the power and resilience we know they have. But it’s not enough for us as parents to see that. Our teen has to know and see they can problem-solve and work through challenges.
3. Enforce Natural Consequences
It’s natural for your teen to struggle with making healthy online choices. It’s okay if they are not perfect. However, it’s important for natural consequences of their actions to occur.
For example, if your teen stays up all night playing video games and want to stay home from school the next day, do not let them. The natural consequence for staying up all night is low concentration, inability to focus, low school performance, falling asleep in class, and possibly a detention for sleeping in class. Allow your teen to experience the consequences of their actions rather than saving them.
If we don’t allow natural consequences to happen, our teens learn that natural consequences don’t apply to them. They will learn they can talk their way out of anything or someone will save from experiencing consequences. And yes, it’s good to listen and be open to new ideas our kids bring to us, but we have to allow our high schoolers to make good and bad choices and experience the results of each. If we as parents experience the consequences for them, they learn nothing. We end up reinforcing the idea that we have to save them from themselves.
In the example of our teen staying up all night playing video games and wanting to skip school the next day. It’s natural for the parent to feel pressure to allow them to skip because if they don’t, they might fail a class which could lead to not being accepted to a good college, which could lead to them going to a community college and living at home…forever. In the end, the parent feel they are the ones who are affected by their teen skipping rather than the teen.
Again, that’s completely normal to worry about our teen’s future as a parent. If that’s the case, take a deep breath and know your teen will be okay. Allow your teen to experience the natural consequences of their actions. Help talk them through challenges but let them come up with their own solutions. If not, there is a greater risk for your high school-all-night-gamer to become your adult-living-at-home-with-no-job all night gamer.
4. If Your Teen is Unsuccessful, Create and Enforce Boundaries
If your teen repeatedly does not make good choices, then it’s appropriate for parents to put up boundaries. We as parents can’t make our children do anything, but we can set up boundaries and consequences.
If they are unable to get enough sleep to function and complete their responsibilities, then turn off the WIFI and take away devices at 10:00 PM or whenever time you decide. Set up a Freedom account to help them focus after school to complete homework and do chores. Take their power cord away from their gaming PC if they are unable to self-regulate.
Prior to setting up and enforcing boundaries, talk with your teen about it. Express your concerns, how you gave them X number of chances, and why you are stepping in. Talk with them about what your expectations are and what will happen if their behaviors don’t change.
Parents, you have a great kid. You've taught them well and you can trust them. True, they don't make the best online choices every time. But they are capable of balancing their screen use. They might need help at times and that's okay. Empower and trust them and if needed, provide more structure and support.
Balancing Screen Use is Like Eating
A way to look at balancing screen use is similar to that of food. We all have to eat. Some foods are healthier than others and problems happen if we only eat unhealthy food.
This is similar to screen use. We all have to use screens and some screen use is healthier than others. Learning, working, playing, and socializing are all healthy online experiences. If we primarily consume fun, entertaining things online rather than a good mix of learning and work, then we will be unhealthy in our screen use and experience problems.
We can eat chocolate cake every day and still be healthy. It’s about how much we eat and other foods we consume too. It’s about balance. The same goes for screens. We can play video games or watch Netflix every day. We also need to work, learn, socialize, and complete our responsibilities every day too.