“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them-not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5:2-3
That happened fast, didn’t it? Suddenly a privilege of teenage life has drifted down to the tweens, who are even less equipped to deal with the pressures and addictive nature of screen-time and texting. A quick skim through a group of questions meant to unveil an addiction to screen time reveal behaviors many tween parents struggle with on a daily basis. “Does your child become listless, tearful, irritable or even aggressive when they can’t use a screen device?” Sound a little over the top? Any parent who has tried to de-device their tween child knows exactly what this is referring to.
Beyond the facade that we are cramping their techie style, children are not always willing, nor do they know how, to admit when group texts have left them feeling exposed and uncomfortable. Tweens need limits and boundaries age-appropriate to their developmental stage, screen time included.
We as parents and guardians have the opportunity to address“now or never” questions and engage in character-building conversations while they are still listening. Here are 4 ways to parent your texting tweens.
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1. Teach and Model the Value of Priorities.
A wonderful mom mentor set a great example for me early on concerning technology. She had access to all devices and log-ins. Everything was turned in to her at the end of the day, and she took the time to scroll through all conversations. Along the way, some valuable lessons surfaced, and important conversations occurred.
I decided to follow suit, and often step in to coach the way my elementary aged kids think is an appropriate way to say what they are trying to say, even though most of the conversations my eight-year-old has are with grandpa. Good parenting is always worth the effort. Make it a priority when it comes to texting.
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"Our lives are a reflection of our priorities..."
Our lives are a reflection of our priorities, and the discipline we exercise in keeping our lives arranged in their order. In a recent sermon, Andy Stanley said something to the effect of, “if you want to avoid drama in your life, get busy doing important things.”
If we, as adults, do not set a good example of putting our agenda aside to seek Christ daily, our kids won’t either. Instead, our priorities begin to align with red notification numbers hovering over our apps, and text alerts competing for our attention. Flip the phone face down and encourage your kids to do so too. It’s impossible to expect that our tweens are not going to want or need access to their devices, but we can help them set the tone of its importance in their lives.
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2. Force Time Outs.
Our behavior impacts our children. When they see us tackling our own addiction to screens by instilling boundaries and self-control in our own lives, they are more likely to follow suit in their own. Beyond the outward protest as we yank the devices out of their hands are small, developing humans, testing their boundaries. Just like the smart remarks that start to fly out of their mouths with the early onset of puberty, they are reaching to see how much screen time communication they are allowed to have at this point in their lives. If we give them an unmanageable amount, we set them up for failure and bad habits.
One of the most important boundaries in regard to technology is the time limit we place upon it. Sometimes, we take the tech out of our children’s hands.
- Create a charging station where all devices are turned in when not in use.
- Make sure that all passwords and screen locks are public knowledge to parents or guardians.
- Set timers on devices that will automatically shut them off when time runs out.
- Be brave enough to be the uncool parent and remind them Who we take our marching orders from.
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"Our job is to lead our children to the feet of Jesus..."
“Despite what your preteen, tween, and young teenage kids may think, you are still in charge. You can always change the WiFi password in your home. That password is a privilege, not a right. The same is true for their phone’s unlock password. During this phase, you should have veto power over every one of your kids’ phoning sessions. If they want to go on it, you’ll have to enter the unlock code. When you do, I recommend immediately setting a timer on their phone for the length of time they are allowed to use it. When the timer goes off, they must stop whatever they are doing and return the phone to you. (Hint from experience: Set your own timer as well. Otherwise, they’ll try to stretch it out.) As always, the key here is to set and adhere to consistent limits.”
Our job is to lead our children to the feet of Jesus and slowly let go, not to win their approval or to be their friends. Let them witness quiet morning moments with God before we make their breakfast, pack their lunches, or pick up our phones.
In order to have the strength to deal with all the tech and texting in a God-honoring way, our relationship with Him has to come first.
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3. Encourage Face Time.
In the article “Screen Time Makes Tweens Clueless on Reading Social Cues,” Jim Leibelt shared of a recent study on how screens have the capability to hinder human connections. When I looked into the mirror at my own behavior and habits, I was convicted by the attention I paid to my device while driving, at the dinner table, and during conversations. Whole days can be spent in conversation with our screens. I had to put limits on my own texting before I could enforce them upon my kids.
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"Screens aren’t all bad."
Screens aren’t all bad. Most of our extended family lives out of state, and face to face conversations make the distance and time between visits a little more bearable.
But instead of texting, encourage your tween to FaceTime their friends. Facial expressions and tone of voice play a huge roll in conversations! Look how long we scroll for the proper emoji or GIF to communicate the emotion of our text messages!
It’s important for them to learn how to talk to people with manners and empathy. That’s hard to teach via texting.
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4. Group Texts.
In the tween circle, these messages qualify who’s cool and who’s not, who’s in and who’s out. The language one child uses may be ok for one family and not for another. Much of the controlled exposure tween parents are still responsible for is ripped out from underneath them though group texting. Not to mention the difference in schedules from one house to the next. The messages will come in all night long, because some children just don’t have bedtimes.
It’s also becoming a new channel for bullying, as kids are added and deleted from conversations daily. It’s not just social media and honesty apps that beg to be patrolled with a vigilance, but their texting history, too.
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"Now is the time to set limits and have conversations about what is appropriate and what isn’t..."
Now is the time to set limits and have conversations about what is appropriate and what isn’t before their bedroom doors are completely closed. Many tweens are nostalgic for the innocence of little kid-dom as much as they are ready to grow up and into junior high and high school. They are in the middle. Meet them there and be the voice that steers them in the right direction.
When teenage life comes roaring in, we’ll be glad we did, or at least satisfied with the good swing we gave it. As they grow, we will gradually have to let go. Embrace every opportunity now to lay the groundwork of good boundaries in their lives, so that they will be more apt to take the reins in the coming years when it will be less of our responsibility to do it for them.
“Megs” writes about everyday life within the love of Christ. She stepped out of her comfort zone, and her Marketing career, to obey God’s call to stay home and be “Mom” in 2011. From that step of obedience her blog, Sunny&80, was born, a way to retain the funny everyday moments of motherhood. (https://sunnyand80.org) Meg is also a freelance writer and author of “Friends with Everyone.” She loves leading her Monday morning Bible study, being a dance mom, distance running and photography. Meg resides in Northern Ohio with her husband, two daughters, and Godlen-Doodle … all avid Cleveland Browns fans.
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Originally published Monday, 05 December 2022.