One of the key tasks of adolescence is for girls to develop a sense of self. This process takes time, quiet solitude, reflection, feedback and role modeling. If girls are “powered up” 24/7, often focused on their virtual self, it's difficult for them to hear their inner voice and to cultivate their authentic self. Parents need to be diligent in helping girls find and take time to be quietly introspective, outwardly active and unplugged. By helping girls disconnect, modeling that behavior, and offering active alternatives you can help girls tune into themselves, your family and the world around them – not just the device they hold in their hand.
Role model how to disconnect from technology and connect with one another. Step away from the computer and your phone and take a moment to enjoy a cup of tea and read a book or journal while your daughter is doing her homework. Encourage her to do the same once her homework is done by enforcing an unplugged hour before everyone goes to bed. Children need to see us disconnect to give validity to our words, and they need the time away from the stimulation and drama that technology can bring so that they can gather their thoughts and get a restful night’s sleep.
Encourage your daughter to schedule in-person social time with friends and help her make it a priority. Girls are definitely making time for their friends on Instagram and Facebook, but are they making those vital connections in person? So much of communication is conveyed in tone and body language that our kids are missing out on the subtleties of communication. There are so many ways that words can be misinterpreted, that not even a string of emoticons can convey the correct intent. Friendships are critical to all of us and take shared experiences to develop – not just a shared string of selfies.
Kids say that they like to look at their screens when they want to “chill.” But technology actually stimulates our brains. Research shows that the physical act of responding to a video game or even an email makes your body tense (not chill), creating a “fight or flight” response and creating the release of stress hormones called cortisones. We need to talk to our girls about this fact and teach them strategies that they can use that will actually help them relax.
Girls do not learn to sink free throws or tackle a tough math problem without instruction and practice. We can’t expect our girls to know how to wind down and relax without us teaching them this important skill. Talk with your daughter about how you relax. Introduce the concepts of deep breathing, meditation and yoga. And if you find that “chilling” is not your strong suit – take the time to learn and do this work together. You will all benefit from the introduction of intentional relaxation.
Take time for nature. Richard Louv, Author of Last Child in the Woods, links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, attention disorder and depression. Our wired girls need to give their thumbs a rest and stretch their legs. Choose an activity each weekend that takes your whole family outdoors and in nature. Find a park, a path, a river or an ocean and go for a walk and breathe in the fresh air. It will rejuvenate all of you.
Journaling is another excellent way for girls to develop self-awareness, however, some girls are overwhelmed by blank pages in a book or don’t enjoy writing. Consider starting a parent/child journal by writing a note to your child in a notebook, and place it on or under her pillow. Have her respond and return it to you. Congratulate her on accomplishments, introduce new topics, ask questions, and let her know why you think she is awesome. A University of Chicago Study shows that journaling is an excellent way to reduce anxiety, and it provides a wonderful way for your child to connect in a meaningful way with someone in more than 144 characters or the 10 seconds of a Snapchat.
Let your daughter know that despite the fact that there were no smart boards in your classroom, that doesn’t mean you were using a chisel and stone! Don’t cast technology as bad and yourself as out-of-touch. Acknowledge how essential and useful technology is, and actually get to know what she is up to online. Take time to check out her favorite app, ask her to see what she is Snapchatting, and texting (after all you are paying for it). Also, remind her that even though she might not want you to see what she is texting now, that because social media is just that – you and everyone else will see it later.
Don’t punish by restricting the use of technology. Grounding children from the use of their phones for a day, week or month might not accomplish the desired result. Whether we like it or not, phones are a lifeline and can be essential in keeping your kids in the loop of homework, group meeting times or future plans. Instead, if a consequence is in order, consider having your daughter use her phone for a limited time in a monitored way. That way she doesn’t end up missing important classroom information, yet she learns the lesson of self-control.
The ability to multi-task is seen as a positive result of our ability to access information, music and movies whenever and wherever we are. However, research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. The researchers also found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time. So don’t let your daughter tell you that having her phone with her while she is doing her homework is not distracting – it is, and it is making her far less focused and efficient.
Challenge everyone in your household to take a look at how and how long you use technology in non-essential ways every day. You might be amazed to find out who is spending the most time on Candy Crush, Instagram and Tumblr. Don’t use electronics as “filler” time. A study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that in a study of 8 to 18-year-olds, they are spending more than 7 ½ hours a day consuming media – watching TV, listening to music, surfing the Web, social networking and playing video games.
It is easy to let the kids watch something or play a game on their phone when you have things to get done. However, our brains need time away from technology to rest and replenish. Recapture some of that 7 ½ hours by turning off the TV and instead of leveling up in “Flappy Bird” and “2048” bring out a board game or take the real dog for a walk.
Start small when you are introducing new ideas or eliminating behaviors that have become bad habits. Instead of threatening to pull the plug, or discontinuing the Wi-Fi, try to add one positive change a week and subtract one distracting thing a week and you will have more time to connect.
Technology seems to have a siren’s call to both kids and adults, and we all need reminders on how to make smart choices with what can be a very exciting and entertaining digital world. Finding a way to embrace technology and manage it within our families is important for everyone. With intention we can help our daughters disconnect from a virtually virtual life and better connect to themselves and the world around them.
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