Suzanne Degges-White, chair of the NIU Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education, is the…
Suzanne Degges-White, chair of the NIU Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education, is the co-author of the newly published “Toxic Friendships: Knowing the Rules and Dealing with the Friends Who Break Them.”
Degges-White also has tips for parents who are coping with rude teens.
Today’s installment deals with the “virtual world.” Monday’s piece offered five tips on dealing with the “real world.”
Just as very young children are initially challenged in distinguishing between “truth” and “fiction,” your teen may need reminders about the difference between “real life” and “virtual reality.”
Behaviors that are acceptable in electronic and online communications are not necessarily acceptable in face-to-face situations. From an early age, boundaries regarding what are and are not acceptable behaviors within the home need to be set. Video games give kids carte blanche to create a world where virtually everything is allowed. This includes “casual” exposure to violence, nudity, profanity, and so on. Unfortunately, research shows that exposure to violence during the early years will leave lasting effects on the brain; these include a deregulated stress response as well as increased rudeness. Teens need to be educated on the difference between the consequences of their behaviors online and on-the-block.
Limit, as best you can, the amount of time your teen spends in front of a screen.
This is so much easier said than done today; even preschoolers have iPads and elementary kids have iPhones. If a child grows up interacting in a private, virtual world more often than interacting one-on-one with family, a whole raft of social skills and social learning will be missed. When you call your teen to dinner by texting him on his phone or Snapchatting his plate on the table, you should take these as signs that your tolerance of his screen time has some pretty fluid boundaries.
More importantly, limit the amount of time you spend in front of a screen when your kids are at home.
Seriously. When the telephone attached to the wall was all that I had for “outside communications” when my kids were young, the longer I spent on the phone, the more trouble my kids would get into. Years ago, this lesson hit home when a call that was at the 10-minute mark ended abruptly as I saw my toddler and preschooler giggling hysterically as they emptied the contents of the toddler’s “potty chair” onto the kitchen floor amidst a sea of pots and pans pulled from the cabinet. Kids need attention from their parents whether they are 4, 14 or 24. They also need to know that they are a priority in their parents’ lives. Kids love mischief and pulling something over on their parents, but if your “quality family time” typically involved surfing randomly through Facebook or Reddit while sitting beside your developing child on the couch being hypnotized by the latest Disney or Pixar flick, it’s hard for you to find fault with a teenager who won’t put down her phone when asked, won’t leave her computer for meals and shows no awareness of vowels or punctuation in her texts.
While the internet has created a very public platform for very private sharing, use the “good lessons” electronic communications might offer when you can.
For instance, using “ALL CAPS” in an electronic message is considered “shouting” in the virtual world and a poster’s audience may publicly chastise users for this specific behavior. Use this well understood “electronic disapproval” as a jumping off point for discussions of your teens face-to-face disrespectful behaviors. When conversations with your adolescent spur arguments, remind your teen that “ALL CAPS RESPONSES are not okay with me.” Sometimes parents have to step into the role of “discussion moderator” when enforcing the house rules is required. If there’s a metaphor you can find that resonates with your teen, use it.
Enforce off-screen time and get everyone in the family involved.
The more time you spend with your teens in face-to-face situations – such as meals, game nights, walks or shared activities – the better picture you will have of the adults they are becoming. Maintaining behavioral expectations can be tough when the rolled eyes or discrediting “Whatever” comments are expressed, but social skills cannot be learned in a world where there are no boundaries. Teens need to separate themselves from their families and develop independence; expect a certain amount of “push back,” but when your teen passes reasonable limits, don’t just let it go. Good parenting is a tough job, but the pay-off that comes as you see your adolescents grow into mature and caring adults is worth the reminders and disciplinary actions needed to assure that your job is done well.