Teenagers in the United States in 2015 are doing this more than sleeping or interacting with parents and teachers. On any given day, they spend about nine hours using media for their enjoyment, according to the report by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit focused on helping children, parents, and educators navigate the world of media and technology. Note: this does not include the time spent on homework or using any kind of media (e.g. computers) at school.
For the majority of parents who never grew up with this much media exposure, the statistic is stunning. That is more than one-third of our children’s day. As Muslims, it is especially worrisome when we consider that, as Surah al-Asr (Time) notes, we are all in a state of loss except those of us who believe and do good deeds (Quran, Chapter 103). Our every moment, not just minute, counts.
Below are some short- and long-term strategies for handling youth media overuse.
1. Watch your own behavior as a parent
For all of the lamenting over young people’s social media use, we need to ask ourselves how much we are guilty of it as parents. How many of us struggle to pay attention when our kindergartener is telling us a long-winded story, sneaking in looks at the phone while she’s talking? How many of us find it difficult to tear away from social media when our kids may need some homework help?
Many struggle with this, and the first move always has to involve parents making and showing the effort to cut down their own social media use before lecturing their kids.
2. Tech-free family dinner time
Studies have noted that the family that eats together benefits together in more ways than one. Apart from helping kids avoid drug abuse and depression, eating together is a Sunnah.
Some of the Companions of the Prophet said: "We eat but are not satisfied." The Prophet said, "Perhaps you eat separately." The Companions replied in affirmative. He then said: "Eat together and mention the Name of Allah over your food. It will be blessed for you” (Abu Dawud).
There should be no phones or tech-use of any kind at the dinner table. This will also help parents and kids regain the dying art of communicating via eye contact, gestures, and good table manners.
3. Enroll them in enough, but not too many, extracurriculars
The old saying “idle hands are the Devil’s playground” comes to mind here. In other words, boredom can lead one to dangerous or wrong behavior. While those hands can be put to better work holding a baseball bat or bouncing a basketball in afterschool sports instead of texting friends, don’t forget the happy medium. Too many extracurriculars can lead to over scheduling. This causes unnecessary stress on a young person.
4. Set a timer
While some time on the computer/phone is fine, this needs to be far less than what has become the
norm. Set a timer on the phone or computer of how long you will allow the device to be used. Once it’s up, make sure to put the phone in the charger for the rest of the evening or to transition to another activity or homework.
5. Find and help them discover tech-free ways to relax
Although it’s fun to watch amusing videos on YouTube or a movie on Netflix, there are many unplugged ways to relax as well. A game of Uno between siblings, or playing the Beat the Parents board game with the whole family are just as, if not more, enjoyable than the passive entertainment Netflix and YouTube offer.
6. Engage them in community service
A weekly commitment to some form of community service requires not just discipline, but the ability to tear away from the phone or computer to empower someone else who is struggling. Not only is this an Islamic imperative for all Muslims, it is an excellent way to teach the value of community and civic engagement.
Whether it’s tutoring struggling students after school or preparing sleeping arrangements at a homeless shelter, this commitment teaches kids that IRL (in real life), there is a whole world out there that requires our attention and effort.