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Tween Tech: Balance It With Real Interaction

by Ronald A. Rowe | July 24th, 2014 | Social, Tweens

IMG_0483Raising 21st Century Tweens presents new challenges and opportunities that no previous generation of parents ever had to face.  Technology has gone mobile.  Smart phones are, in reality, portable computers that go everywhere the owner goes and open portals to a whole new world of possibilities, both good and bad.  Tweens have access to more information and more entertainment than ever before.  The gaming experiences available to my 13-year-old son are the kind of things that I could only imagine in my wildest dreams as a child.

We may not have interstellar space travel or phasers just yet, but modern smart phones put Star Trek’s tricorders and communicators to shame.  And with all that computing power at their fingertips, today’s Tweens face monumental distractions in the form of social media, videos, and video games.

It is easy to see why so many parents have allowed the smart phone to become their de facto babysitter.  Have to stop at the grocery store on the way home from school?  The kids can wait in the car and play games.  Long line at the bank?  The kids can check up on Facebook while you wait.  Two-hour drive to grandma’s house?  Cue up a movie on the iPhone and head out the door.

The problem is that Tweens are missing out on social interaction that is crucial to their development into adults.  We’ve all encountered these Tweens and teens who cannot pull themselves out of their phones long enough to look you in the eye and say “hello”.  Current technology is wonderful and should be embraced, but 10- to 13-year-olds don’t have the awareness necessary to distinguish when, where, and how it can be used appropriately.  If parents do not actively intervene we will soon have a whole generation of people unable to manage face to face communications.

As much as you may cherish – even need – some quiet time away from the kids, it is vitally important that you limit their time on the mobile devices.  Tweens are naturally obsessive.  They discover something new and will binge on it until forced from the trough.  My 13-year-old son would watch Captain Sparklez videos on YouTube from morning until night if we’d let him.  That doesn’t leave much time for well-rounded social interaction.

Tweens need to see appropriate social interaction modeled by their parents.  They need to hear it preached to them.  And sometimes they need to be manipulated into practicing it (by setting up a social engagement or simply turning off everything electronic and leaving them little choice but to go find a real, live body with whom to interact).

Encouraging your Tween toward developing appropriate social skills may be difficult at times.  You will probably be resented for it.  It will cut into your “me time”.  But it will pay off in the long run.  No matter where technology takes us, it will always be the people with interpersonal skills who take the lead in life.

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