At every point along the parenting journey, there come times of recognising that a particular unwanted behaviour or attitude of a child has either settled in or started to unacceptably increase – and there’s a feeling of it being a bit (or a lot) out of control. It’s definitely a gulp moment knowing that there is most likely a battle ahead as you grapple to reset boundaries – especially with a tween who’s wired to push back on parental boundaries and limitations.

Even more of a clunk is knowing that you have been possibly been party to the extension of this attitude or behaviour – and when it comes to screen time and access, let’s recognise that the device is a very good time-filler, behaviour-settler and bribery tool. In busy family life, it’s not uncommon for screen time to creep up and for vigilance to decrease until that moment of realisation that it’s all gone too far.

Let’s set the scene

Let’s briefly summarise this ‘tween’ aged child to get a good, clear picture to work from. Generally, we’re talking about the 10 -13 year old who is most definitely in the ‘tween’ stage. Between being a sweet child and a cool teenager. Bodies are changing but not nearly as fast as attitudes. Friends and wanting to grow in independence trump most else. On the inside of this aged child there is an ENORMOUS renovation happening – yes, literally. The tween brain is having a restructure, with neural pruning happening leading to all sorts of irritations and frustrations, disorganisation and moodiness resulting. While the brain is undergoing this HUGE change, which is readying it for the challenges of being an independent, decision-making adult, the body is also popping out new lumpy, bumpy, sticky-outy and often hairy bits. It’s a lot!

The push and pull for independence

Every tween craves a bit of independent decision making. In parenting, it’s often when we move to a model of behaviour management that has more of a negotiation-feel to it. When we mix this age with access to the online world, what starts as well supervised interactions can quickly move to less parental visibility to all facets of their young person’s digital life.

That sweet little face can assure you that they know what they’re doing and that they would never engage in anything nefarious or dangerous. And after those first stricken months of watching like a hawk, it is often the case that parents can lose track of what’s been downloaded, whether passwords have been changed or whether parent controls have been sufficiently updated. 

All of sudden it’s gone too far

It’s certainly not unusual for a parent to have a moment of wondering what their tween is up to online and then trying to claw back some level of control. Obviously, the longer the period of not checking in as religiously, the harder it can feel to not only know what your child is up to on the apps you do know about and may have initially agreed to, but to also figure out all the other apps and games that may have been added since. And then there’s the hurdle to cross of making the decision to change what’s been happening, to limit access or even to deny access to some of the apps that may have been added and have now become well used and populated with friends and contacts.

5 strategies for taking back control

#1 Remember that you are the parent and parenting is NOT a popularity contest. I know, the thought of surviving the avalanche of “But it’s not fair”, “Why don’t you trust me?”, “But everyone else is allowed” and “I hate you”’s is almost too much to handle – but it’s worth it. If you’ve made the decision that something needs to change – then step into the role of parent and make it happen. This is definitely the time to be fair and firm, decisive and calm. Blow ups, shutting you out and walking away can be fixed by disabling data and wifi access until your tween is able to have a reasonable discussion. It’s very important to remember that you are protecting and not punishing your child. There should be no, “Then I’ll just take it all away until you can be reasonable” carry-on. That’s not a good start. Tell your tween that to help create some space for you both to talk, you’ve created some room in their program by disabling access temporarily – which will be restored when the balance is.  I know that this won’t be popular with some – but protection always comes first. We held our writhing toddler’s hands when they announced that they could cross the busy road all by themselves, it’s now time to do the same with your writhing tween’s attitude.

And one final add that won’t win ‘Popular Parent of the Year Award’ is removing that device from the bedroom. It’s a hard no and breaking this rule must have consequences. Just go through the pain of having to get this rule happening – especially if it’s a backflip on what’s happening right now. No devices in bedroom. No excuses. No exceptions.

#2 Set aside time to talk about the issue and give your tween plenty of warning that it’s going to happen. Springing the ‘dialling back your online-access’ conversation on your tween is a recipe for disaster. This conversation is one best had at the family dinner table, hot chocolate and biscuits in hand, with a genuine air of being willing to listen and to negotiate.

#3 Start small – small adjustments are easier to introduce, accept and build on. Carefully review how much time is being spent online (easily tracked) and what apps are being accessed. The key is to be curious and not critical here. Saying things like – “Wow, that time’s snuck up a bit hasn’t it – that’s on both of us” doesn’t become a finger-pointing situation where being defensive and snarky is guaranteed. Decide together on an acceptable amount of time and acceptable range of apps. This is the time to write this down. Err on the side of under-shooting on what you really want the final position to be at this time, as being very reasonable, respectful and balanced means that the next round of adjustments will happen with less angst involved.

#4 Ask “With you?” or “For you?” ‘With you’ is by far the preference here. You’ve negotiated, made the decision together and now you’re trusting your tween to work with you to make it happen. ‘For you’ is having to flex a bit of parenting muscle and doing it for your tween when they’re unwilling or not meeting an agreed deadline. Encourage your tween towards the ‘with you’ approach (carrot) rather than the ‘for you’ approach (stick). So, when you’ve reached your acceptable agreement on time or acceptable access to apps, don’t leave the table without agreeing on a time that the agreement will begin. Be very clear on your agreement for when the reduced time, or limited range of apps, will happen. And if there are apps to be disabled and deleted – have the ‘with you’ or ‘for you’ conversation. When it comes to penning the agreement, it’s much better done by your own tween’s hand so that they feel in control and part of the decision-making.

#5 Meeting your tween halfway. As a softer option here, perhaps you can squeeze into some of their online time with them. Watch some cat videos together, or other people playing games (what is that all about huh?). Being part of your tween’s online world prevents the skulking away to engage in that world without you and gives you a window into their world. The next consideration is taking an audit of your own screen-time. How much time are you spending on your own device and how many apps do you have that take you away from the here and now? What are you modelling – and can you make some changes to show your tween how it’s done? If your tween is now at a loose end where before they were busy and buried in their device, decide how you’re going to fill some of the gaps together. This is a good opportunity to remember what you used to do together before device-saturation happened. Card games, walking the dog, shared TV shows, reading a book together, completing a project – there are so many ways to spend some amazing time with your tween. And it’s also a very good opportunity for your tween to amuse themselves without a screen. Reading a book, doing a puzzle, craft, sports or music practise. You don’t have to meet, “But I’m bored” with a device.

It’s going to be OK

Really, it is. It’s never too late to push the pause and then reset button. Yes, there might be some push-back and angst along the journey, but that’s the essence of parenting right? It’s OK to identify that you might have let some aspects slip a little and then decide to tighten them up – and when it comes to a tween’s digital-life, staying on top of this alluring, exhilarating and often-times dangerous world is a must. 

DiGii Social is a carefully designed digital-life training platform just for tweens. It provides the opportunity to practise skills towards mastery before spending too much time on other social media platforms. DiGii Social is easy to use and available as a school subscription with a parent education channel included.