Category Archives: teen talk

How to get your child off digital entertainment.

There is so much discussion these days on children being over-exposed to television and digital entertainment. There are constant discussions on how we need to stop our children from excessive consumption of these devices. I have found that if you clearly define the timings when your child can use the digital devices, and control your own consumption of these devices, it is not that difficult to reduce their usage of digital devices.
Give your children and their friends games that will keep them engaged, give them a challenge, and it seems they don’t really miss the idiot box. That was a pleasant surprise for me on one of the recent rainy evenings. Three young boys, full of energy sitting together building towers out of Jenga blocks, and not once did they mention the TV.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This incident made me wonder whether the fault lies in us, not giving them enough opportunity to play together, fight with each other… make amends, upset each other. May be when you put children together they no longer need other devices to entertain them!
May be instead of enrolling them for endless classes and tuitions, we should just let them hang out together, play with real friends, and build bonds that will last them a lifetime.
That short stint on a weekend evening revived in me the hope that all was not lost, and that our children are not really that different from us. They too, like we did at their age love being together, playing the fool, ganging up and enjoying each other’s company. To more such unplugged evenings and indoor playtimes!

~Bharti Athray

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How to keep your teen safe on social media

Right, so here we are talking about one of the most pressing issues of our times: Social media and teens. It is a topic that all adults know needs to be addressed, and one that the teens believe, their parents should stay away from.

Attend any PTA meeting in school, and you will hear the teachers warn you of the dangers of letting young children access social media without adequate parental guidance. There is the fear of stalking, of having online relationships with adults who are upto no good, the danger of cyber bullying, the fear of your child creating a digital trail that may come back to haunt him in later years when he starts applying to universities or for jobs… the concerns are endless.

But the flip side: this is the technology of the future, everybody is on it. Your child’s future academic institute will look for blogs and Facebook communities that your child has set up, invested time in or nurtured, the networks they make here are ones that can connect them to their future mentors, they follow their icons, study and observe how these social media celebrities have become icons and hope to do so themselves.

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Understanding the power of social media
The young people today are not just dreamers, they dream big, and they are brave, very brave, I think. To them, failure as a concept does not exist. What social media has done for us as a society is made us realize that you don’t have to win the Nobel Prize to be considered successful. Each community has its success stories, consisting of passionate people who wanted to make a difference. Social media brings these young achievers and doers to the fore, inspiring others in their age group to do the same.

You hear their interviews on radio, they perform at local clubs, some of them travel across the nation or even the world, sharing their passion and their stories, in the process building a network of followers and becoming more famous and thereby, according to the traditional standards, successful.

Can I make social media work for my teen?
These positives make me ask the question, what should I do about social media and my child being on it. If he spends too much time on it, it affects his academics; if I take his access away, I fear he is being left behind. As a parent, how do I strike a balance?

Some of the answers by experts dealing with children and teens can be a route that you may want to adopt:

  • First and foremost acknowledge that your child will have a social media presence. In this day and age to expect otherwise is living in a fool’s paradise. We fear social media as we are not very comfortable navigating this digital world. Your teen knows it well in terms of how it functions technically, how the various networks are connected and how people using it to their advantage.
  • Set up your own social media accounts and ask your teen to help you understand how the different media work. Most teens are happy to teach you as it makes them feel you appreciate their inputs instead of constantly telling them that they don’t know anything.
  • Speak to your teen about the real world dangers when you were a teen, how you were advised to remain safe and how the safe rules apply online. Eg: Don’t speak to strangers, don’t share your information with people you don’t know, don’t be rude to peers even the ones you don’t get along with… explain to him / her that apart from their friends viewing their social media posts, there are also known adults who could be checking them out, like teachers and their friends’ parents.
  • Teach him to mind his language: Content posted online by young teens can appear out of line, brash or even vulgar to adults who are not used to the lingo teens use between themselves. This can easily be misconstrued and spoil a teen’s reputation. I have found it important to explain to my teen to use his language very carefully on social media keeping in mind that the other child’s parents may be accessing his / her friend’s account. Being aware of this fact ensures the social media conversation remain publicly acceptable.
  • Follow your teen on social media, but as an observer: Ask your teen if he is ok with you following him on social media accounts. Most teens do not have a problem with that as long as you don’t keep commenting on each post. A ‘Like’ once in a while is appreciated. Being very vocal in a space that he shares with his friends is like inviting his friends to come over and sitting in the room while they want to share their private stories.
    You would not do that in real life, so don’t do it online. Give the child his / her space, you are just following the account to keep an eye on his / her activities.
  • Follow his close friends, but don’t invade their privacy: My teen helped me set up my Instagram account and also asked his close friends to be my first followers. This encouraged me start posting regularly and his friends would regularly ‘Like’ my posts, making me feel good. This also let me follow them and watch the activities on his friends’ pages. Please note, the same rules of online conduct apply for friends’ account: comment as little as possible, Likes are ok, it makes them feel good, but comments can make them feel as though you are invading their privacy. So tread carefully.

Social media and rocky parent-child relationships
Next question: What if my teen does not share his social media account / does not accept me as a friend? Yes, this could happen if you and your teen tend to argue and disagree about almost everything. I would suggest two things:

  • Chat with your teen, help him understand that you have his best interests at heart.
  • If that doesn’t work, ask an adult family member whom your teen connects with and is a trustworthy person to help out. See if your teen accepts his or her friend requests, and let the adult be your teen’s guide in his social media journey.

Surviving Parenting in the digital age
Yes, it is difficult to be a good parent and be liked by your teen these days. But I don’t worry too much about being liked. You see, while at this time your teen may think you are being archaic and old-fashioned, you need to remember you are only trying to keep your teen safe. Just don’t put the rules down with an iron hand, as that simply does not work with today’s generation.

They believe they are grown ups, and deserve to be treated as such. But as I have mentioned in my earlier articles on this blog, you need to understand that they are not always thinking straight or logically. Put your rules in place, share your perspective, listen to them and walk with them mentally to a solution that works for both of you.

Don’t make every discussion with your teen a power struggle and an ego conflict. It is not. You are still dealing with a child, who currently is reacting like a toddler. So have patience, guide him, love him and let him know that no matter what happens in the world of social media, you still will be his most ardent follower.

~ Bharti Athray

I almost abandoned my teen!

There are days when my teen and I get along like the old times, when he will hug me and hang around me like a nine year old. And then there are other times, when he will mumble at everything I tell him and make me want to shake him and get him to answer me properly. He is tall lanky guy who seems to wear this ‘I know what I want’ look most of the time.

I thought my teen wanted to be left alone
So where his academics are concerned, I would keep a watch but let him decide his study time and portion completion. This I quickly realized was a bad idea, we had to stay up till 2 am one night to complete the study for next morning’s exam.

He had a different set of friends as school over the last two years, as elective subjects were introduced their batch has been shuffled. This meant he was hanging out with kids I knew nothing about, much less anything about their parents. Over time, I lost touch with what was happening with his friends, how his relationships were growing… he would share some stories of school, every once in a while, so I did know the names, but what were they like, their habits and personalities, I had little clue. I felt I would be intruding if I asked too many questions.

After all, when I did ask the questions, I would get vague, monosyllabic answers; so I left him to his own devices believing he was now old enough to handle his relationships. A few cracks in these relationships with people who were once very close to him caused him pain and anxiety. Something I learned almost a year after the incident had happened. And my young boy had been struggling with the issue, without even realizing it, all by himself; with some help from friends who were as clueless as he was.

I was wrong!
This incident made me question the very premise that we parents come to adopt that these teens are now old enough and mature enough to handle their lives on their own. I believe, parents of boys feel this more as the boy grows up, chooses to share little about what’s happening with him and worse, refuses to share anything that is bothering him (they feel boys are not supposed to share or feel weak or hurt).

While theoretically I do know this is what the teen boys think and feel, I didn’t catch it when my teen was going through this phase. He seemed to go through his regular day without saying anything and I just assumed things were fine with him, and I did not have to keep on asking him how he was doing.

When, one day, he shared that things were not absolutely fine with him, I realized my assumptions about him being able to handle stuff were wrong. Ok, let me state here that I am not doubting his ability to excel, I am not saying he is not mature enough to understand all that is happening with him, but what I realized is that my approach of staying away and letting him solve his problems on his own was probably what was wrong.

What science says
My research on the topic led me to this Wall Street Journal article (link provided below), where various studies explain the behavior of teens from the age of 11 through till they are 18 years old. The article makes for a very interesting read, especially if you have kids in this age group. The writer has shared a careful analysis of the behavior of children as they grow through these years and the areas where they need parental support and intervention.

Here’s a quick snapshot of what is required from parents of 15-16 year olds.

Apparently these are the two years that teens are most prone to taking risks. According to the paper, ‘the brain’s reward receptors are blossoming, amplifying adolescents’ response to dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. This makes thrill-seeking more desirable than it will ever be again. Normal fears of danger are temporarily suppressed during adolescence, a shift scientists believe is rooted in an evolutionary need to leave home and explore new habitats.’

My responsible little boy was turning edgy
I think this insight is amazing. My young teen has been one of the kids who has always judged risk well in his younger days, to the extent that he hardly hurt himself physically during his toddler years. I have always considered him a very sensible young man. And then, suddenly, in the last one year, he has been willing to experiment with his career, go to the very edge of what we call the standard, and at times, making me panic.

Parental support makes a difference
It was heartening to know that according to experts, this age is not too late for warm, supportive parents to make a difference. In a laboratory risk-taking test, teens who grew closer to their parents starting at age 15 showed less activation of a brain region linked to risk-taking and took fewer chances 18 months later, according to a 2015 study of 23 adolescents published in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. The closeness to parents included having parents’ respect and help talking through problems, and an absence of arguing or yelling, according to the study.

Choosing to be a part of my teen’s world – again
These scientific findings have helped me re-look at my relationship with my son. First, I began talking to him more often, trying to get him to share his daily life as he used to in his younger days. I stopped leaving him alone, though he did display that he wanted me to.

I fell back on the research I had done and the papers I read, that they are open to advise if you don’t push it down their throat. Till I began this project on understanding my teen better, I used to let him make a lot of his study decisions on his own. And this often landed him in a soup, where the last day would see him struggling to complete submissions, and study. The last few days, I have begun to guide him with clear timelines, telling him that he needs to do certain tasks at a given time.

While there is an initial resistance to being told what to do, I find that he does see sense in what I tell him. And he will follow the instruction with, of course, a few tweaks of his own. I do believe this change in approach will enable him to score better marks at his exams, and as I handhold him to logical decision making, he too will learn to make better decisions for himself.

Don’t be hurt by your teen’s behaviour
As I continue my exploration of how the teen mind works, I am increasingly realizing how ill-equipped we, parents are when it comes to helping our children cope with these tumultuous years. Instead of being their pillars of support, we are too busy nursing our own hurt as they begin to challenge our authority, tell us that we don’t really know how the world works, and that they don’t want to live with us anymore, that we are interfering in their space.

This is difficult for most parents to handle, but letting go of your children at this stage is like abandoning them when they need you the most. They are in the process of finding themselves, and tend to experiment with not just different hairstyles and clothes, but also with different personalities. This leads them to hang out with different kinds of people, make friends with peers they may never have interacted with at school earlier… this is also the time when they have many arguments with their friends as each one tries to prove his or her point.

You need to be your teen’s biggest fan!
In the backdrop of all that is happening emotionally and socially, these are crucial academic years for the child, as he /she is in the process of completing schooling. But with so much happening outside the class, and the emotional centres of the brain being in overdrive, these youngsters can often feel alone, misunderstood and isolated. They feel they can’t trust anyone. In this situation, if you as a parent too pull out your support, the young teen is actually abandoned and has to fend for him / her self.

This condition of being left alone, constantly being reprimanded at home for poor time management, improper behavior and too many restrictions on dressing and social etiquette leads to immensely aggressive behavior among these youngsters. Further, it creates permanent behavior patterns that they carry into their adult life. Much of what we as parents tell them now, becomes their self talk in the adult years.

These facts and research papers made me realize that we need to be as involved in the lives of our teens as we were when they first began school. Just as they were unsure of their environment then, they are now. It’s just that they don’t come home crying about a fight they had, nor does their teacher call us to school to say he / she is acting up.

Your teen son still wants to be loved, hugged and appreciated.

So my suggestion to my peers is, if you have become a hands-off parent as the teen years set in, with the belief that you were giving your youngster freedom… well, maybe you need to relook at your stance. Your teen’s happiness is still your responsibility and he still needs you to hug him, love him and appreciate him even if he does not ask for it. In other words, your teen wants you to be his biggest fan. Please don’t let him down!

 

 

 

 

Read more of the Wall Street Journal research article here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-teens-need-most-from-their-parents-1470765906