Michael Osit, PhD, arrived at Mamaroneck High School just in time on Thursday, January 21st, with advice from his book Generation Text: Raising Well-Adjusted Teens in an Age of Instant Everything (Amacom). The school auditorium was filled with concerned parents, some of whom were texting or phoning, possibly with their children.
To Be Awake is To Be Electronic
Perfect timing as well because the day before, The New York Times front page featured results from a 2008-2009 Kaiser Family Foundation study showing that Americans aged 8 to 18 on average spent over seven and a half hours a day with electronics — not including 90 minutes texting and 30 minutes talking on cell phones.
Who are these androids?
“It’s not that our kids are so different from us, it’s that the culture they’re growing up in is very different,” said Dr. Osit, a clinical psychologist in Warren, New Jersey. He treats children, teens, adults and families, is a father of three, and appeared to have heard it all.
His talk had two goals: to identify influences on psychological development of Generation Text, as he calls the tween and teen group; and to give parents advice on being a more powerful influence than technology.
A Tilted Global World
Remember the ad that asked, It’s 10 p.m., do you know where your child is? “Today the answer is, sure, she’s upstairs in her room — and also all over the world,” said Dr. Osit, “because children have that access, with layers of privacy from you.”
Even mainstream print and TV access can have undermining impact. Dr. Osit showed a “Gossip Girl” magazine ad of a teenage couple in bed under the headline: “Mind-Blowingly Inappropriate,” attributed to The Parents Television Council. Admonishment was transformed into entice ment. “That’s the nature of the culture your kids are living in,” Dr. Osit warned. “It’s pervasive.”
Fourth Graders with Phones
As technology becomes more affordable, children get it at younger ages. Dr. Osit, shared that nine-year-olds in his practice typically now have cell phones.
How grafted into our children’s lives is technology? Dr. Osit offered these findings:
- 70% of preschoolers use a computer, often unsupervised; 23% use the internet
- From 2003 to 2008, age 12-14 with their own cells increased 220%, from 21% to 66%.
- 84% age 15-18 own a cell phone
- 110 texts per week are sent in school, about three per class
- 2.5 million 10-14 year olds watch R rated movies; 1 in 3 say parents let them
- 20% of teens use cell phones to send sexy or nude shots of themselves
“A big challenge of parenting Generation Text is access and excess — addressing technology’s influence on your child’s desires for fast answers and for more and more, and to get what they want immediately,” said Dr. Osit. “You need to take back control of your child. I want you to be the major important influence on your child.” Some of Dr. Osit’s advice:
Should You Check Your Child’s Texts and Emails?
“I’ve come to the conclusion the answer is yes,” said Dr. Osit. You should also know all your child’s passwords. “You’ll get a window on what’s going on in their life you wouldn’t otherwise. Sometimes you’ll be scared, sometimes you’ll be proud of them.”
On the argument of trust and privacy, Dr. Osit said, “Having a cell phone or internet is a privilege, not a right, and has boundaries. Use the technology to help you: They have to use it in a responsible manner or you restrict their usage for a while. Eventually they’ll follow the rules because they really want the cell phone back.”
Know what they’re up to. Checking texts and emails helps. One example: you may want to know what’s meant by references such as “Plate” or “Farm/Pharm” party, where teens raid parents’ medicine cabinets and sample a plate of mixed pills.
Have “No Technology” Times
Cell phones go into a bowl, for instance, while doing homework, eating, and sleeping. For parents having trouble enforcing, Dr. Osit suggests contacting the providers to have your child’s cell service shut off between certain hours, such as 5-7 p.m.
Remember Who Makes the Rules
Regarding teen response that it’s a double standard, for instance, for you to check their texts, but not vice versa, said Dr. Osit, “There are two sets of rules, one for the parents and one for the kids. Tell them, ‘Is it fair to you, or is it what’s best for you?’
Recognize “Tunnel Vision Syndrome”
A common situation he sees in his practice is that since technology upgrades every six months, children want their devices upgraded, too. Dr. Osit asked, “Does this sound familiar? They ask for something, you say no. Maybe the new version of their six-month-old cell phone has come out and they want it. They ask again. They negotiate and negotiate, or they get it anyway without your permission. It’s your job to hold your ground when you need to. Don’t be intimidated.”
Redirect Instant Gratification
Shape a better response in them gradually, said Dr. Osit, “Tell them, ‘I know it’s hard to not get what you want right now.’ The more you say it, the more they’ll hear it. They’ll fight back, but you have to stand firm. They won’t stop loving you.”
- Look up from the computer when your children talk to you—and they will, too.
- Model good behavior within your family and to others. “Your children really are picking up on your most subtle traits.”
- Mandate community service that your child does, or does with you. “They need to see, not just hear about, people with a lot less.”
- Don’t make up for absences by buying them more than they need. When juggling time, money, and boundaries, “don’t become passive in parenting.”
- When watching shows with questionable actions, ask your children questions surrounding values, and let them talk. “What do you think about [the character’s] decision to…..”
Dr. Osit cited a recent Twix candy bar survey of 1,000 college students in which the majority said that for seven days they would rather give up a “significant other” than give up cells or internet. At the same time, 75 percent said they came to college focused on getting a job upon graduation. Thirty years ago, it was 55 percent.
Dr. Osit concluded optimistically, “With your active parenting at the helm of your child’s life, you can help shape your member of Generation Text, into Generation Best.”
For further information, contact: Dr.Michael.Osit@gmail.com , 908-757-1399 x14.
Katherine Ann Samon, Business Editor for Larchmont Gazette, answered a text from her fourteen-year-old son during the lecture. www.katherineannsamon.com