When Wasting Time Hurts

How many of us, as adults are guilty of wasting time on screens? I’m sure everyone should be raising their hands. This week Screenagers tackles this issue with teens and tweens in the article below:

I am impressed by the number of tweens and teens who tell me they feel bad about spending a lot of time on screens. These young people say things like “I hate that I wasted the day away.” I then ask if they ever talk about this feeling at home. Generally, they say “no” because they don’t want their parents to say something like “yeah, see I told you so,” or “well, you should have known and just gone outside.”

It is summer now, and plenty of youth are spending many hours on screens. Finding ways to help them identify the feelings of “time wasted” can then help them to learn how to resist the urge to be on screens. Even if your child will not openly say they feel like they are wasting time, now is a great time to have a conversation because it will surely come up again during the school year when they are trying to finish their homework but the urge to check social media or watch a Youtube video keeps them from reaching their goal of finishing their work. Suddenly homework is not done and it is 10 PM, or later, much later.

Here are four ways you can share your strategies not to waste time to help them foster their own

  1. Talk about times you choose to indulge in screen time for entertainment. Maybe it’s when you finish a big work project, or it is your one night a week when you watch extra TV. Your kids might be surprised that you have thought this through. Modeling this idea is essential.
  2. Talk about how you find that it is so easy for you to avoid doing something challenging and to do something that feels like “wasted time” to you such as watching way too many movie trailers (i.e. me). The challenging task could be something like calling a friend you need to resolve a conflict with, or calling your tax accountant, or calling HBO yet again to cancel your online subscription, and they keep saying they will have someone call you, but they never do.
  3. Talk about the idea of a “Precommitment strategy,” a term coined by a Nobel-prize winning economist named Thomas Schelling. His concept was to organize things in a way that would ensure success by setting up systems that would make it difficult for you to back out later, and thereby fail at your goal. If you know you waste precious sleep time by bringing your screen into your room at night, the precommitment strategy would be to set a rule for yourself to not to bring the screen into your room so that you will not even have to deal with the dilemma of going on your screen and then to tell yourself to stop.  
  4. How do you forgive yourself when you end up feeling like you “wasted time?” This act is important to identify because when we beat ourselves up for doing what we had set out not do, we often then react by continuing to do the activity that made us waste time. For example, “wasting time” watching yet another Black Mirror episode might make you upset that the bills did not get paid. Then, as a way to soothe yourself from the stress and self-deprecation this brought on, you go right back to watching more episodes. Instead, if you you can stand back a moment, breath, and use your self-compassion and resilience tools to say something like “I needed to watch all those for a reason,” or “I am not sure what it was, but I am going to let this pass and not get anxious over it,” or “I will begin again,” or “I will try tomorrow.” Whatever you say to yourself, share with your kids.

If you have a loved one struggling with appropriate screen usage, please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Going Phone-less for Camp

Summer camp is an exciting time, and with just a few more weeks of summer left kids are cramming in as much fun as possible. Screenagers had a great article, below, about the benefits of a screen free camp.

Both day and sleep-away camps provide great opportunities for kids to unplug, connect face-to-face with people of many different ages and learn new skills.  And, many parents are loving this support of no-tech camp rules. 

Lindsay L. says, “No screens allowed, best rule ever!.”  Randi R. chimes in, “No electronics! Best month ever!!” 

Before writing anything else, I just want to say that I wish every young person had access to camps, and it makes me sad that many do not. I have long contributed to organizations, including our regional YMCA, to help provide summer opportunities for youth. I remember fondly the one and only camp I was able to attend growing up. I was in 9th grade and felt so lucky to be there enjoying racquetball, tennis, “skit night,” and more.  

An interesting study that I cite in Screenagers found that children who attended a five day, tech-free camp, had measurable improvements in their ability to read emotional cues when compared to before the camp. 

When kids leave their phones (their connector to us) at home during sleep away camp, it is a great opportunity for them to practice building self-soothing skills. Inevitably many youth will feel homesick or have an uncomfortable new social situation and when they can contact you, to help them through these feelings, they are likely to do that. I just heard a story about a friend’s 12-year-old son who brought a cellphone to an overnight camp that had a no-cellphone policy. Sure enough, he had a problem with a friend and called his parents to come to pick him up. When the counselors saw him on the phone, they confiscated it. He then fell apart even more and demanded that his parents pick him up. They didn’t, and in the end, he had a great few days.

I would just add that all camps have an emergency phone available with the adults and if necessary, you can contact them, and they can contact you. But remember, when your kids feel homesick this is an excellent opportunity for them to make strong connections to other trusted adults and peers, and that can be undermined if they can call you for every problem.

Camp Newman in Northern California sums it up perfectly in their rules book: “We recommend that your child powers down, unplugs, and takes what we’re certain is a well-needed break from the world of electronics. We recommend bringing other ‘interactive’ things, like playing cards, chess, scrabble, word games, etc. Of course, books are always welcome! Please be respectful of the usage and content limitations we have in place.”

Some day camps do not have clear guidelines about mobile devices, or if they do have a no-device policy, might not have the bandwidth to enforce it. That is why if you want your children or teens to stay off their phones at camp, you will need to simply ask them to leave them at home. It is a great chance for them to practice asking to use a counselor’s phone if they need to reach you during the day. These little moments of getting out of their comfort zone to ask for a bit of support (i.e. to use a phone) are wonderful ways to develop communication skills in general and in this case, self-advocacy skills. 

If you have a loved one struggling with leaving cell phones behind for interactive events please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.