How can we help our teen son manage media so they don't interfere with his life?

Michael RichMedia expert Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston, answers your questions about media use. Last week, he discussed which computer games are good for your 2-year-old.

Here’s this week’s question:

Q: Texting, cruising the Internet, and Facebooking are interfering with my son’s academic goals and adding stress to our family life (we have three kids, 16, 13, and 9). He is very bright and wants to excel in school, but the lure and addictive quality of social and entertainment media undermine his nightly goals. We’ve already eliminated weekday TV and gaming, but taking technology away completely seems to encourage sneaking and secrets. What facts and tips can you share that will help my wife and me and, ultimately, our son learn to manage media wisely?
-Determined Dad in Short Hills, NJ

A: Dear Determined Dad,

First of all, you’re doing something very positive by actively engaging your son in this conversation. Parents often feel completely out of touch with their children’s media lives, and as a result, they simply throw up their hands and walk away from them. Your involvement here is very important and worthy of praise.

In order to help your son improve his media management, build on the foundation you’ve already laid: his nightly goals. Sit down with him and have him think through what he wants to get done in a day—which, in addition to any other priorities he might have, should include homework, extracurricular activities, a family meal, adequate sleep, and exercise. Then have him identify why he wants to get those things done. Once this is done, help him budget his time. It will soon become clear what sorts of guidelines he will need to set for himself in order to meet his priorities—keeping TV and gaming out of his bedroom, for example, will make it much easier for him to meet his goals.

You’ll also want to have him think through what happens when media won’t stop interfering—remembering that the purpose of these consequences is to make it so that he can get done what’s important to him. For example, if Facebook is getting in the way of his schoolwork, will he voluntarily turn off his WiFi for the evening, with help from you? When he can’t sleep because of texts, will he turn his phone off and leave it in the living room over night?

Learning to organize your life, prioritize tasks, and manage your time is one of the key tasks of high school. As your son moves toward the independence of college and adult life, these media can be presented like driving—a freedom that comes with responsibility. How he responds to this conversation will tell both of you about his ability to manage these things in his life and what kind of freedom he’s ready for. Given what you’ve described, it sounds like he’ll rise to the challenge.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician