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Connecting with Teens in a Small Screen World

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We are on vacation in Florida with another family. Three young teenagers are on board, my thirteen-year-old included. A number of times over the past week, I have peered over to see each of their beautiful faces lost in a three-and-a-half inch screen: a Nintendo DS, iPhone, iPod Touch, or any other thing!


One might be texting friends back home, another might be selecting a new song, while yet another is playing the latest downloaded game. There they were in the car last night, screens lighting their faces. There they were on the couch, in front of the giant TV screen! Even in bed, all faces illuminated, eyes entranced.


So how is a parent to counteract the draw of the tiny, sophisticated, intoxicating hand-held plaything?


Well, for one, recognize that if you can’t beat them, join them. Whatever it is that is displayed on that tiny screen, your teen is clearly engaged in it. Sit down with her. Have a look at the contraption. Ask what it does—teens love to be teachers. Most importantly, ask what your teen loves so much about it. This is a golden opportunity to connect, to get to know your teen better.


And you might want to write her a clever text once in a while: “How are you?” “What are you doing/listening to right now?” I worked recently with a father who took to writing his daughter an “I love you” text every day. He called me with glee the day he got one back.


You need to know that texting is the preferred mode of communication for many teens, whether we adults want that to be the case, or not.


Also, recognize your own addiction to the tiny screen. What I did not mention above is the myriad opportunity I have had to see adult faces lit up by an iPhone in the past several days. We serve as the strongest role models for our teens. Our screen time is seen as latent permission for their own.


Finally, you might want to engage your teen in a different way. For instance, my wife Julie and I designated yesterday’s lunch as a “No Screen Zone.” We engaged our teenagers in conversation. We talked about music, movies and politics. It was fun, and everyone was engaged and participating.


So make sure you protect some time together where all screens go dark.


© 2011 John Duffy, author of The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweensd 

By John Duffy for Not Just The Kitchen


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