Your son rushes home from school, not to head out and see which other guys want to play pickup basketball, but to head to his room, don his headphones, and spend the hours between now and dinner “connecting” to his friends playing Fortnite. Gone are the days of telling our teens to “turn off the tv and do your homework.” Homework, gaming, social media, research for school, Netflix, and even phone (FaceTime) calls are all intertwined and consume almost all the waking hours our students are not in school. A new study by Common Sense Media found that teens are spending an average of nine hours a day using entertainment media. Tweens had an average of six hours a day.
Average amount of time a Fortnite player spends with the game per week: 6-10 hours
Percentage of Fortnite players that are students that have skipped class to play it: 35%
Percentage of Fortnite players that are aged 18-24: 60%
Does it surprise you to think that your son or daughter, who claims not to have time to mow the grass, eat a family dinner, or spend an hour with Grandpa on the weekend, is spending 6-10 hours a week playing a game? This is one area where we would be thrilled to have a child who was below average. But what if she was above average? More than 10 hours a week? Yikes.
What is a parent to do? There is something you can do. It is simple, but just as anything with teens, not necessarily easy. PowerThesaurus.org says the antonym for “social media” is “real presence.” The first obstacle to overcome is creating opportunities for our students to have real presence with us and with others. If the allure is powerful enough, it can overcome even the enticement of online gaming.
Five simple steps to increasing your teen’s real presence quotient:
1-Have a discussion. Using an app like Moment can be eye-opening for you and your teen to see how much time she is spending on different apps or activities. Having a discussion about time management and what your family guidelines are regarding screen time is a great first step.
2-Create Online Free Zones/Times. Using a parent control app like Our Pact, a Circle wi-fi router, or the built in Screen Time on the iPhone can allow you to block certain hours each day or each week that will be internet free. If your teen is older, allowing them to manage this themselves builds trust.
3-Invent Fun. Creativity really counts here. Connect with other parents and choose a weekly time for teens to gather. Willingness to drive them to a park with sports fields or courts available might be key. Offering to have them all over for pizza and a game night (board games, not online games!) would be another option. Asking your son or daughter to brainstorm activities with you might create good ideas. A scavenger hunt in the neighborhood or at a safe local gathering place is highly interactive and fun.
4-Call the Gang Together. Getting students to buy into this idea may take some work, but see if you can offer to order their favorite pizza or make their favorite meal as a reward for coordinating schedules with their friends to make this happen. For them it is as easy as initiating a group text.
5-Schedule the Next Gathering. When you have the group together, make sure they coordinate the next week’s plan. Offer a prize for the winner of the chess/checkers/ping pong/pool tournament. The winning scavenger hunt team can pick the next sport outing. Within the group does anyone have a pool table, corn hole set, swimming pool, or other incentive to hang out? Try coordinating with that family to host the group.
If your efforts result in your teen having two to three hours a week with real presence instead of online presence, you have been successful. We are not going to eliminate the internet or the allure of gaming. But with a plan and persistence, we can encourage our teens toward face to face relationships. We all know real relationships are not only beneficial for building friendships today, but also valuable for developing skills to enhance their future.