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How to Get a Teenager Off the Computer

by Liza Blau

The average teenager spends more than 7 1/2 hours a day using computers and other electronic devices, according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The most popular online activities include emailing, instant messaging, games, downloading music and videos, social media and chat rooms. You might be concerned about your teen's excessive use of the computer, and for good reason: it can lead to diminished interest in outside activities, sleep deprivation, withdrawal from friends and family, and anxiety when he's without a computer, according to St. Louis Children's Hospital.

Talk to your teenager. Don't simply order him to stay off the computer, which might cause him to feel resentful, become defensive or sneak computer use behind your back. Instead, learn his reasons for spending so much time on the computer. Ask what his favorite online activities are. Show genuine curiosity and interest. You might say, "I can understand why Internet messaging is a fun way to connect with friends" or "Your skill at that game is truly impressive." Ask him to show you how to play his favorite game or the social media sites he's engaged with.

Share your concerns. Avoid lecturing or threatening him. Don't criticize him by saying, "It's not normal to spend so many hours on the computer" or "It's no wonder you don't have many friends -- you spend all your time online" or "You never talk to me anymore." Instead, you might say "I'm concerned that you're spending so many hours on the computer and less time with the family" or "I'm concerned that using the computer during the night is why you have trouble waking up" or "I miss the way we used to have long talks."

Work with your teen as a partner, not an adversary. Ask how much time he reasonably needs to spend on the computer each day. If you don't agree, you might reply, “I know those online activities are important to you, but that amount doesn't leave enough time to spend with the family." Set a daily time limit for his computer use -- suggest a trial period of one week and if the rule doesn't work for him, you'll consider revising it. Limit the combined use of TV and computer to no more than 1 1/2 hours per day, recommends family therapist and author Carleton Kendrick.

Place your teen's computer in the kitchen or another main room of your home where it'll be out in the open. Monitor your teen's activity to ensure he's sticking to the new time limit. Set a timer next to the computer so he knows when to turn it off. Most overuse of computers by teenagers occurs between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. To prevent him from using the computer once you're in bed, lock up the computer at 11 p.m. or install a security password that will prevent him from going online.

Tip

  • Be a role model for your teenager and limit your own computer use that isn't related to your work. Teenagers often model their own behavior by observing their parents.

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