Our Kids’ Digital Lives are Stressing Us Out. Here are Some Tips for Getting a Grip.

Columbia Mom has partnered with Heathwood Hall to bring our readers the following post.

I thought my head would spin off my body if I looked into my living room one more time to see my daughter watching a YouTube video about how to repurpose Chapstick holders and paint Hydro Flasks when the weather was beautiful and the outside was calling for play. She wasn’t making the craft, just watching someone else making the craft.

Dr. Devorah Heitner set me straight last week when she spoke to the parents, faculty, and middle school students at Heathwood Hall about young people and screen use. She said, “If your kids are watching other people do things without doing the things they watch, you are out of balance.”

We brought Dr. Heitner, who’s the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive and Survive in Their Digital World and founder of Raising Digital Natives, to Heathwood because we’ve seen how parents and kids alike can struggle to navigate a digital landscape that’s full of opportunities and temptations that are both good and not-so-good.

Times are different. Unlike when I was young and watching The Dukes of Hazard and Facts of Life, there are no ending cues, no Star Spangled Banner cues, no screen-full-of-snow cues to let our young people know that the show is over and the lights need to be turned out. Sleep, which is so important, is often no longer a priority as it is later and later and interrupted by blue lights, never-ending shows, and pings. The cues don’t exist, so the videos, games, texts, and postings continue.

Important Messages About Screen Time from Dr. Heitner:

Be present in your life and your postings.

  • Bring your best self. Watch for facial clues, include other people, choose to be around other actual human beings in person.
  • Make a plan. How do you learn to walk away even when it is interesting and fun? Why is that even important?
  • When managing one’s time, learn to work in a less distracting manner and use life hacks to maintain focus. What knowledge do you have about yourself and your work habits to maintain focus? How do you deal proactively with distractions?
  • What end-cues can you create for yourself to know when to stop? 

Notice your balance and continuously strive to be in balance.

  • Pay attention to when your digital life bleeds into your real life. How are your devices making you feel? Are your devices controlling you? Many games, for example, are intentionally created with the “near-miss phenomenon.” They are designed to make you think you are really close to winning, so you will instinctively want to try again. 
  • Just paying attention to what other people are doing and not actually doing anything yourself is not healthy. What are you going to do about that?
  • Find your way in life, literally and figuratively. Balance using a screen to give you directions with the screen that teaches you how to apply your eye shadow. Not all screens are bad and not all screen time is the same. Move beyond the notion of screen time. Is it for creating? Consuming? Or of good quality?

Mentoring over monitoring is key for your children.

  • Mentor your children. Talk about scenarios and possible situations. Teach them how to have an exit strategy.
  • Interpersonal wisdom based on experiences is important to share… relationships, reputation, civility, boundaries, and managing your time. Reflect on what you do, make adjustments, and share that process with your children. 
  • Model your process of thinking and adjusting. 

Privacy is paramount.

  • Use judgement.
  • Are your children crowd-sourcing their self-esteem? 
  • If your child says they want to be famous, you ask, “What do you want to be known for? If you want to be famous, what do you want to be famous for? What does it mean to be known in your community?”
  • When looking at pictures of others, think about your bias and quickness to jump to conclusions. If you do that with others, might they judge you for your postings? 
  • Ask yourself this, though, what are the upsides to be associated with your content?
  • Ask permission. Kids and parents should ask permission before they take pictures and before posting. Ask yourself, “Do I need to share or could I just enjoy the moment?” Give yourself a “posting waiting period” to be certain you want to post.

Repair and grace are often needed to move forward.

  • We are all going to mess up in our digital lives. If you need to repair a situation or friendship, apologies should always be in person. Let it go from your mental hard drive as a parent.
  • Digital evidence of everything is a problem.
  • Some consequences are greater than others. You must accept them and move forward. 
  • Everyone needs the Do Over. 
  • Always have the thought bubble…. “Am I really sure I want to share that?”

Can your kid survive if the batteries die?

  • Pay attention to what your kids are able to do. Depending on their age, if they can do it, let them.
  • Purposely create situations where your children have to learn, implement, and practice life skills. 

Suzanne Nagy is Middle School Head at Heathwood Hall. A graduate of Heathwood, Furman, and the University of South Carolina, she has also served as a middle school English teacher and as Director of Caring for Tomorrow’s Children, and is the mom of a 9th grader and a 6th grader.


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