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Cary Quashen: How to talk to ‘Generation Text’

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Posted: August 12, 2010 2:25 p.m.
Updated: August 13, 2010 4:30 a.m.
 

Many parents are expressing their concern about their teens’ exposure to media, which hinders communication. Studies indicate teens spend 53 hours a week immersed in electronic media, and many parents are finding it more difficult to talk with their teens.

The newest research from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America shows that more than one-third of parents are concerned that TV (38 percent), computers (37 percent) and video games (33 percent) make it harder for them to communicate with their media-engrossed teens about risky behaviors, like drug and alcohol use.

The survey of more than 1,200 parents also confirms that a quarter or more are worried that newer forms of media, including cell phone texting (27 percent) and social networking sites like Facebook (25 percent) and Twitter (19 percent), hinder effective parent/child communication.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study of 2,000 teens released earlier this year, the average amount of time young people (8-18 year olds) spend consuming entertainment media is up dramatically to almost eight hours per day.

That’s at least 53 hours a week of immersion in some form of media. The research also noted that the more media teens consume, the less happy they tend to be and those who are most captivated by media reported their academic performance suffered. About half (47 percent) of heavy media users reported they usually get fair to poor grades, mostly Cs or lower, compared to about a quarter (23 percent) of light media users.

These new findings present a unique opportunity for parents to play a more active role in what their impressionable teens are watching and monitor how they are spending their time online.

We know that kids today are bombarded with pro-drug and drinking messages in the song lyrics they listen to, the movies and video games they watch and play, and the social networking sites they visit. Videos of kids abusing drugs and alcohol to get high are all too accessible online and that’s why it’s more important than ever for parents to break through the media blitz and make their voices heard.

Many parents are frustrated their teens are constantly glued to their cell phones texting, sending nonstop instant messages or watching endless hours of reality TV shows. However, it is of the utmost importance we understand the role that media and technology plays in the lives of our kids, because it’s not going away.

Parents have to meet teens where they are. We have to be willing to listen to their music, watch their movies and know about the latest TV programs our kids are watching if we are going to stay on top of what they are exposed to.

Limiting media use at times is very important, however embracing technology can actually improved your communication with your teens.

Many parents tell me they have had some very meaningful conversations with their teens about the pressures of growing up via text messaging. Not only is that less threatening to them, but they have a written record of your wisdom to refer to again later.

As kids head back to school, take “time to text” your teens

The back-to-school season is a time of new beginnings for many teens, but it’s also a time of new challenges for many teens who are dealing with added pressure from peers, especially when it comes to teen drug and alcohol use. Parents need to frequently communicate with their kids about the dangers of drug and alcohol use.

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America’s TimeToTalk.org program empowers them to recognize the influence they have in their children’s lives, while offering easy, online resources to help parents start an ongoing dialogue about avoiding risky behaviors.

Parents can learn about what teens are seeing and learning from their increased exposure to media and use those “teachable moments” as a starting point to supervise their kids’ media consumption and talk with them about the importance of making positive, healthy decisions for themselves.

Parents who are waiting for the “right time” to talk with their kids about the dangers of drug and alcohol use may be missing important opportunities to influence their kids’ choices.

While nothing can take the place of face-to-face conversations, learning the communicative power of technology including emails, cell phones, and even texting, can help start a conversation with a reluctant teen.

Parents can reinforce these messages at times when teen drinking and drug use is more likely — after school, on weekends and during unsupervised hours.

Free tool at TimeToTalk.org helps parents text their teens
For those parents who are hesitant or don’t know how to send text messages, the Partnership for a Drug Free America has created a free, downloadable guide called “Time To Text.” The tool is now available at TimeToTalk.org and offers quick tips on how to text, suggests examples of different messages to send to teens and even provides a cheat sheet parents can keep in their wallet.

Some parents may still feel apprehensive about embracing media and technology as a way of communicating with their children, but, in today’s world, it is vital that parents connect with their kids in any way possible. It is important we all know how to bridge the technology gap between us and ‘Generation Text’.

Cary Quashen is a high-risk teen counselor and a certified addiction specialist. He is the president and founder of the ACTION Parent & Teen Support Group Programs and ACTION Family Counseling. The ACTION Parent & Teen Support Group Program meets every Tuesday evening at Canyon High School in the A Building at 7:00 p.m. Quashen may be reached by calling (661) 713-3006.

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