Many parents are finally waking up to the effects of digital distraction on our kids, our families, and ourselves. And when you combine the constantly-in-hand smartphones, the pressures of social media, and our kid’s overly packed schedules, it’s easy to let real conversations and quality family time slip away.
It’s no secret that between traveling sports teams, digital devices, Snapchat mayhem, and taking five AP classes to try to get into a “good college,” our girls are feeling the pressure to be perfect. They don’t feel like they can make mistakes. They’re wary of seeming awkward or uncool at all times. And then we – as families – barely even see them after a full day of schoolwork and extracurriculars which were strategically built to create the perfect resume for college admissions offices.
We know things need to change. We’re yearning for the times before social media and smartphones and crazy busy weeks of studying, sports, performances, and distractions.
But how do we go back?
We’ve all started to realize that we’re running this race to nowhere. We’ve got this nagging feeling inside us that we should be doing things differently, but none of us know how to slow down. We want our kids to be able to be kids. And most of all, we want to be able to spend time with those kids!
What Exactly Am I Talking About?
If you feel like your girl’s childhood and teenage years are slipping by in a haze of homework, after-school activities, and Instagram stories, then you can probably point to several examples in your everyday life. How do you know if something is wrong? See if any of these sound familiar:
- We feel it in our homes as we nag our kids to “get off their devices” and try to stop them from burying their faces in their phones.
- We see it in our relationships, as many parents can barely get through to their kids for a casual chat (much less a heart to heart).
- We feel it as we struggle to make time for family dinner anymore between travel practices, music lessons, and dance competitions.
- We see it in our kids’ inability to communicate in real life, their fear of uncomfortable situations, their terror of making mistakes, and their hesitancy to go for things they really want (like how high school girls aren’t dating anymore).
- We feel badly for our girls and the pressure they feel to be “on” 24/7, yet we get angry with them when they won’t follow our rules about how often they can be on their devices.
- We don’t want them to feel stressed about getting into an elite college, yet we can barely stop words to the contrary as they tumble from our mouths.
- We aren’t even sure we’re role modeling the kind of behavior we want to see in our kids.
How Being Constantly Busy Is Affecting Them
Our girls are feeling the effects internally too. We can see how the pressure to perform well in school (and everything else) combined with being constantly connected affects kids in their increased rates of anxiety.
In 2016, studies showed that 25% of kids ages 13 to 18 have mild to moderate anxiety. Girls are more likely to be diagnosed than boys, and the median age it begins is 11. Almost a third of kids report high levels of stress and psychological distress, and both conditions have increased in recent years.
Some of the reasons for this increased anxiety in kids and teens? Parental pressures, media fears, and social media pressures (like viewing photos of parties when they’ve been left out). Overscheduling and poor sleep can worsen these issues. And a lot of this asserts itself in our kids’ personality traits like perfectionism, worrying, needing to please, avoiding conflicts, difficulty relaxing, and low assertiveness.
If you’re nodding, that’s because it sounds like every high-achieving kid on the block.
What Can We Do About it?
Unfortunately, I can’t give you a definitive answer on how to declutter our kids’ brains and schedules and somehow add an extra hour to the clock to have family dinner every night. And no, I can’t magically stop your kid from loving Snapchat – though there’s probably some good money to be made there if we can come up with a cure!
But I have a few ideas about what we can do in the short-term:
- If you find yourself unable to role model the behavior you want to see in your kids, ask yourself why. Why can’t you get your phone out of your hand? Why are you constantly connected? Do you truly need to be, or are you trying to numb something, avoid something, or get away from some sort of discomfort? Be aware of how often you’re on your phone and try to get better about it. Then ask your kids the same questions. Are they online because they need or even want to be? Or are they maybe avoiding talking to you, avoiding awkwardness, or avoiding a difficult situation?
- Many kids that are anxious want someone to talk about it with. But lots of them don’t know where to get that help. If you think your child is feeling worse because of their hectic schedule or social media or the pressure to be perfect, ask them about it. Talk about what could lessen that stress. Remind them they don’t have to be perfect for you. Ask how you can better support them and if they’d like to lighten the load.
- Remember to check yourself when you start to lay on the pressure. Stop with the reminders about college and grades and the need to perform and stand out. Motivational talks and celebrations of small successes are fine, but be aware of when you might be unintentionally adding to their stress.
- Schedule family dinners. If you’re barely able to make it to the dinner table once a week, strive for two. Put it on the calendar if you have to and remind everyone. And when you finally sit down to eat, make sure that everyone’s phone is out of the room!
- Ask your kids about their dreams, their passions, and what excites them. Offer to let them cut certain activities from their schedules to pursue those things. Give them time to be creative and encourage them to go for it. More than that, let them know that if they make a mistake or fail, it’s no big deal. You’ll be there to support them no matter what.
These are just little things, but if your child knows you have their back and that you guys are on the same team, they’ll feel much more comfortable talking to you about their stressors, their goals, and their worries. Ease up on the pressure, and let them know you want them to be happy… and only as busy as they want to be. Tell them you want to spend time with them, sans smartphones, but don’t be preachy about it. And be sure to put down your phone in the process!
Something has to change. Kids growing up in the age of text messaging, social media, and forever being connected to the Internet need our help developing communication tools so they can go out into the real world and actually handle a college interview or a job interview. They need role models and sensitivity training and our support to be successful. They’re not going to lead happy lives communicating through abbreviations, disappearing photos, and emojis alone!