5 Tips for Taming the #MeanScreens and Your Child

The #MeanScreens are more dangerous than the mean streets.

Posted Jun 30, 2015

The surliness and disrespect seen in adolescents today comes across as significantly more intense and in-your-face than were seen a generation ago. Adolescents tend to rage against the machine, in whatever form it takes. From beatniks, to hippies, to slackers, to hipsters, adolescents and young adults have never been hesitant to thumb their noses at the “establishment.” Unfortunately, it seems that as the means of expression have multiplied, so have the ways in which “social learning” goes astray. Developmentally, teens are at a point in their lives at which they believe in their own invulnerability, their uniqueness, and their omnipotence. These three traits can lead teens to experiment in ways that can be sadly destructive and even potentially lethal.

Video Games? Movies? Music?

Gaming is a pastime that fully plays into these three belief systems. Games can provide positive “proof” to support an undeniably mistaken belief regarding personal invulnerability. When a player gets killed in a game, you can re-start the game and start the story over. Real life just does not work that way, but after a lifetime spent engaged in this fantasy world of player regeneration, teens may take risks that are much more dangerous than the risks taken by teens in a prior generation.

Video games also feed into the belief of uniqueness as teens pick their avatars very carefully as they begin a game. Whether it’s a role-playing board game or a single player video game or a multi-player game on the web, players carefully select exactly the unique traits and characteristics of their avatar. It can be great to encourage teens to “be whatever you want to be in this life.” However, when they act out undesirable behaviors in their leisure activities, it may be hard for them to shift their behaviors and language to more appropriate and respectful vocabularies and attitudes when they leave the game or their friends.

Are video games “all bad”? No more than profanity-laced movies, songs, images are “all bad.” What is “bad” is when there are no rules in place and no reliably present parenting practices that serve to monitor and limit the exposure of teens to potentially harmful content.

We all use movies and television as means to escape reality. Yet when the “escapes” are into worlds of warfare, drug use, violence, disregard for others, and so on, impressionable minds are shaped in ways that are not in the best interest of the greater good or of the teens themselves

5 Tips for Dealing with the Virtual World as a Source of Teenage Rudeness

  1. Just as very young children are initially challenged in distinguishing between “truth” and “fiction,” your teen may need reminders about the difference between “real life” and “virtual reality.” Behaviors that are acceptable in electronic and online communications are not necessarily acceptable in face-to-face situations. From an early age, boundaries regarding what are and are not acceptable behaviors within the home need to be set. Video games give kids carte blanche to create a world where virtually everything is allowed. This includes “casual” exposure to violence, nudity, profanity, and so on. Unfortunately, research shows that exposure to violence during the early years will leave lasting effects on the brain; these include a deregulated stress response as well as increased behaviors that are classified as "rudeness." Teens need to be educated on the difference between the consequences of their behaviors online and on-the-block.
  2. Limit, as best you can, the amount of time your teen spends in front of a screen. This is so much easier said than done today; even preschoolers have iPads and elementary kids have iPhones. If a child grows up interacting in a private, virtual world more frequently than interacting one-on-one with family, a whole slew of social skills and social learning will be missed. When you call your teen to dinner by texting him on his cellphone or Snapchatting his waiting plate on the table, you should take these as signs that your tolerance of his screen time has some pretty fluid boundaries.
  3. More importantly, limit the amount of time you spend in front of a screen when your kids are at home. Seriously. Kids need attention from their parents whether they are 4, 14, or 24. They also need to know that they are a priority in their parents’ lives. If your “quality family time” typically involves surfing randomly through Facebook or Reddit while sitting beside your developing child who is snuggled on the couch being hypnotized by the latest Disney or Pixar flick, it’s hard for you to find fault with a teenager who won’t put down her phone when asked, won’t leave her computer for meals, and shows no awareness of vowels or punctuation in emails, texts, or book reports.
  4. While the internet has created a very public platform for very private sharing, use the “good lessons” electronic communications might offer when you can. For instance, using “ALL CAPS” in an electronic message is considered “shouting” in the virtual world and a poster’s audience may publicly chastise users for this specific behavior. Use this well understood “electronic disapproval” as a “jumping off point” for discussions of their own face-to-face disrespectful behaviors. When conversations with your adolescent spur arguments, remind your teen that “ALL CAPS RESPONSES are not okay with me.” Sometimes parents have to step into the role of “discussion moderator” and enforcing the house rules is required. If there’s a metaphor you can find that resonates with your teen, use it.
  5. Enforce off-screen time and get everyone in the family involved. The more time you spend with your teens in face-to-face interactions – such as meals, game nights, walks, or shared activities – the better picture you will have of the adults they are becoming. Maintaining behavioral expectations can be tough when the rolled eyes or discrediting “Whatever” comments are expressed, but social skills cannot be learned in a world where there are no boundaries. Teens need to separate themselves from their families and develop independence; expect a certain amount of “push back,” but when your teen passes reasonable limits, don’t just let it go. Good parenting is a tough job, but the pay-off that comes as you see your adolescents grow into mature and caring adults is worth the reminders and disciplinary actions needed to assure that your job is done well.

Some Final Important Truths to Bear in Mind

  • Kids and teens live up to expectations, for good and for bad.
  • Self-esteem is shaped by how we perceive others view us; trophies and medals for just “being me” do not build a healthy sense of personal efficacy or external expectations.
  • Teenagers have always appeared disinterested in others, and self-absorbed; unfortunately aloof self-absorbed parents and the unfettered virtual world have created a brand new version of the “rebellious teen.”
  • The anonymity and instant delivery/receipt of online and electronic communications emboldens adolescents and adults to behave in manners that they would not dare in public life.