Setting healthy media consumption boundaries

Media can be a great tool for learning and staying connected, and nobody knows how to use it better than today’s teens. But too much of any good thing can be unhealthy.

So many different apps and devices beg for our teens’ time and attention, and it can be hard to keep up with it all. How much is too much? It’s tempting to go to extremes: either give our kids as much freedom as they want or be too restrictive.

So how do we set healthy boundaries for our teens’ media consumption, and still let them have fun with it?

Use Media as a Reward

A treat always feels best when it’s earned.

Give your teens the opportunity to earn time with their favourite devices, shows, or apps when they do a good thing. For example, suggest that they can earn an extra half hour of Netflix by finishing all their chores by a certain time, like before supper. Or offer to let them keep their phone in their room later on a night they help a younger sibling with their homework.

Rewards should add a little fun to the boundaries you’ve already set. Your teens will get to enjoy media within healthy boundaries, be thrilled with the extra privileges they earn and be eager to do the less-fun things in order to earn a reward.

Have a “Binge Day”

Once a week, once a month, or whenever fits your schedule, set up a “binge day”. This is the one day that you and your teens can indulge in some extra media fun.

If your regular rule is to spend two hours of non-school-related screen time per day, suggest that every Saturday, your teen gets an extra hour. Or, set up one day a month where all limits are doubled for an extra special treat.

“Binge days” will look different for every family, and should be used carefully. But, they are opportunities that your teen will really look forward to. All the while, they’ll maintain healthy standards of media consumption on regular days.

Follow Your Own Rules

Nobody wants to follow someone who won’t stand by their own rules.

If the rule is that your teen only checks social media after finishing all her chores, show her that you can follow it, too and avoid Facebook until all the dinner dishes are washed and put away. If your teen is allowed one episode of his favourite Netflix show per day, follow the same rule for your shows.

By working with the same boundaries that you set for your teens, you will set a positive example of how to consume media in a healthy way. Plus, you’ll show them that you are worthy of their respect.

Frame Your Boundaries Positively

Instead of telling teens what they can’t do, tell them what they can do.

“No SnapChat until you’ve finished your homework” sounds harsh and forbidding. “You can use SnapChat as soon as your homework is done” is much more positive.

It’s the same rule, but one sounds like a privilege and the other sounds like a punishment. Within reason, avoid the word “no” – stick to the word “yes”. Doing so will help you to frame your rules in a positive way, making them easier to follow.

Nobody wants to be told “no”, but everyone likes to hear “yes”. So, when setting and explaining boundaries, state them to sound like things your teen gets to do instead of restrictions she is stuck with.

Pick Out Some Favourites

Every teen has devices, apps, or shows that they like better than others, and ones they’ll be more willing to give up.

When setting boundaries, include more time for the things your teen likes best, and less time for the ones they’re less crazy about. Your introverted teen might prefer Netflix to social media, while your social butterfly looks forward to extending their SnapChat streak another day.

Take your teens’ wants and needs into account when setting boundaries. By creating boundaries that let them do the things they enjoy, you’ll give them a healthy media experience that they can still have fun with.

Talk to Your Teen

Your teens are old enough to make some decisions along with you instead of having all their decisions made for them. They know what they like, what will motivate them, and what their schedule needs.

Talk to your teens about the boundaries you want to set. Ask how you can best support and encourage them to stick with the boundaries you already have.

Teens will be motivated to stick to boundaries that they have helped to set. And letting them in on the process will make them more comfortable coming to you when they think something needs to change.

It’s up to you!

Keeping up with the ways that teens use media is hard, but setting healthy boundaries doesn’t have to be. Boundaries like these will help keep teens safe and healthy in the ever-changing world of media without sacrificing the fun that comes along with it.

Article written by Nancy Razkalla