For the next several months a group of writers focused on the issues of boys and men are collaborating through the writing and sharing of blog posts in order to bring greater awareness to the unique challenges boys and men face in the 21st Century. Twice a month these writers will be posting the same posts on their various media formats to spread the word and to introduce their audiences to the great work of their peers. Today’s post features Dr. Gregory Janzt, founder of The Center, and co-author, with Michael Gurian, of Raising Boys By Design: What the Bible and Brain Science Reveal About What Your Son Needs To Thrive
Boys have a hard enough time concentrating, contemplating, and reflecting — all executive functions centered in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, an area where teenage males are naturally not as fast to mature as we may like. So the last thing we need is for our sons to spend too much time with technology that inherently encourages surface-level, multi-tasked, short-term thinking.
Signs He’s Using Too Much Tech
Would he rather spend time with technology than people?
Is he choosing technology over physical activity and time outdoors?
Does he use tech devices during mealtimes?
Is most of the time he spends with friends on tech devices (i.e., texting, playing video games, watching television)?
Is tech usage distracting from time he should be spending on homework?
Does his greatest sense of joy or accomplishment seem to come from tech usage?
Does he seem fatigued and/or irritable, particularly after long periods of tech usage?
Does he have a hard time concentrating, particularly after long periods of tech usage?
Does he get anxious if he is away from his tech devices for too long?
If you answered yes to any one of these questions, your son may be using too much technology, and it’s probably a good idea to consider new (or revised) rules for his tech use.
Introducing New Tech Rules
1) Talk to your family about tech pros and cons.
While he will likely be resistant to a conversation that suggests limiting his tech usage, you are best served bringing it up within the context of your tech usage as a family. Explain to him that as grateful as you are for all the ways technology helps improve your lives, you want to look closely at your tech usage to be sure there is a healthy balance of things.
As a family, brainstorm a list of pros and cons. All the ways technology helps improve your lives — like providing information, connecting you with friends, and providing services of convenience. And all the ways it can threaten your quality of life — like distracting from homework, making you tired, taking time away from family and friends.
Note, going forward, make it a point of performing the same tech assessments, and subsequent (applicable) limitations, on all members of your family. After all, the vast majority of us would be better off spending less time with technology. Plus, this way your son won’t feel singled out.
2) Assess your son’s tech usage.
Even if you already believe your son is too dependent on technology, consider the fact that he’s probably using it even more than you know. Spend a week paying attention to how your son is using technology, including computers, smartphones, video games, and television. Keep a journal, making note of what he’s using and for how long.
Think beyond the boundaries of your own home. Reach out to his childcare provider, teachers, and parents of his friends. Ask them what technology he is exposed to when he’s with them, and for how long. And if your son currently is allowed technology in his bedroom, don’t forget to include in your calculation of a guesstimate of how much time he’s on tech devices in the privacy of his room.
Note, it is helpful if you can perform this tech usage assessment on all members of your family so that your son doesn’t feel as though he is being singled out.
3) Limit tech time.
Once you have a good idea of just how much time your son is spending with tech devices, talk to him about limiting the amount of time he will be allowed to use technology going forward. The more control you can give him over his new tech schedule, the more he will welcome the change. For instance, if you want to cut down his overall technology use by 10 hours a week, let him choose the how much time he would like to eliminate from tech device. That said, make sure there is an even distribution of things. For instance, the last thing you want is him eliminating time on his computer and smartphone just so he can spend all his tech time playing video games.
4) Keep tech out of the bedroom.
If you haven’t already, prohibit the use of technology in his bedroom. This means no TV, no computer, and no smartphone. He won’t be happy about this, but explain to him that this will give him an opportunity to use his bedroom as it’s intended — to rest and recharge.
5) Monitor his tech activity.
Play his video games. Watch his television programs. Visit the websites he frequents. Read his texts, emails, and posts to his social media pages. This need not be done in secret. Let your son know that the privilege of using the tech devices you provide him with is your right to monitor his activities. The more accustomed he already is to his tech independence, the harder he’ll fight you on this. Don’t give in. It is your right, as a parent, to do this. And there are plenty of computer monitoring programs and apps to help you do just that.
6) Hold off on a cell phone.
The sooner you allow your son a constant tech companion, the sooner you introduce the possibility of technology dependence. Try and protect your son from the tether of tech addiction as long as you possibly can, at least until he starts middle school.
7) Say no to new tech toys.
Parents invariably feel the pressure to give our kids the latest and greatest of everything, particularly the newest tech devices. Resist at all cost! Your son does not need a new smartphone every time a new version comes out. (None of us do.) An upgrade is perfectly fine now and then — in a smartphone, computer, or television, for that matter — but wait until the waning performance of the existing device actually warrants a new purchase. In this manner, you can teach your son how to appreciate what he has, how to wait patiently for what he wants, and how to be a responsible consumer who doesn’t perpetuate society’s increasingly “throw-away” mentality.
8) Set up consequences for violations of tech rules.
Your son is going to make mistakes, like sneaking extra tech time or using inappropriate language in texts, emails, or social media posts. So before you initiate tech limitations, set up a clear set of consequences should these rules be violated. The most effective consequences are those in which you confiscate the device for a specified period of time.
9) Revisit the rules now and then.
Finding just the right amount of tech usage requires a learning curve. You may find your initial rules don’t do enough, or maybe they do too much. Plus, as your son grows and changes, so do his habits, interests, and needs. For this reason, it’s a good idea to revisit your tech rules now and then. Maybe once a month for the first six months, then very three months thereafter. And if you happen to forget, congratulations, as what you’re doing is probably working.
Find more insights into raising boys in today’s tech-intensive world in Raising Boys By Design: What the Bible and Brain Science Reveal About What Your Son Needs To Thrive by A Place Of Hope founder, Dr. Gregory Jantz, and Michael Gurian.