What Your Teenager Really Needs in 2020

Connection & Consequences–that’s what your teen needs from you in 2020.

I’ve learned this first-hand these past few months as I’ve stepped back into the high school classroom. I’m teaching one class of seniors at a wonderful Christian school. Spending these past few months with these 17 students has reminded me what teens need. Our kids thrive when they have deep connection. To learn new habits, they need firm boundaries and real consequences.

In the past 18 years, technology has changed our world. When I started teaching in 1997, my principal warned us teachers not to share our email addresses with parents. He cautioned us that giving parents email access to them would mean we were “on” 24 hours a day.

Ha. Nowadays, a world of not being connected 24 hours a day seems as old-fashioned as phones hanging on the wall. My seniors do everything on their phones. Like all of us, they are addicted to their tiny screens and the worlds inside them. Many hours of the day that used to be about human connection are now about screen connection. Suicide rates are higher than ever and so is anxiety. Depression has become the norm, rather than the exception.

Here’s the truth: we all need boundaries and consequences when it comes to technology. The world of the Internet is infinite. As adults, we have to put real limits on screen time–or we will lose our children inside them. Your child needs you to set time limits for their technology and they need you to enforce those limits.

At our school, if a student is on their phone and the teacher confiscates it, the phone stays in the office for three school days. The student gets the phone back in the evenings, but during the school day they’re without it.

At first, I was hesitant to confiscate a phone. I was afraid about how my kids would react to three days without a phone. I started the semester by telling my students to keep their phones away. They tried to follow this rule.

Except, the truth is, we’re all addicted to our phones. There is always a reason to check it. And because the Internet is endless, there’s always a reason to stay on it. 

I soon realized that my kids would only listen if they had a real consequence for using their phones in class. I needed them to see that I was serious that we’re talking about English in my class and not watching vines.

And so, I started taking up my kids’ phones. My students really hated this. Without their phones, they couldn’t snap their friends or check their Instagram likes. It was tense and awkward. My students hated the sharp consequence and I hated being the bad guy.

Except–the consequence was also totally necessary. It was only with this firm boundary that real change happened. The kids stopped pulling their phones out in class. Our discussions improved. They became better at connecting with each other. It didn’t cure their phone addiction, but it did show them another way.

God designed us for real connection with each other. We need more eye contact, more touch, more vulnerability. We don’t need more scrolling and clicking. We don’t need more superficial relationships.

Our Creator made our spirits to need connection with Him constantly. Our souls get hangry when we don’t have the nourishment of His Word or the deep connection through prayer or through worship. Our teens need the security that God offers them through these transformative, miraculous, ancient means.

Here’s your part of this, parents. Your teenager needs real limits and consequences. Try these in 2020…

“If you’re on your phone at the dinner table, it’s mine for 24 hours.”

“Your iPod Touch is going to live on the kitchen counter, instead of in your room. If you break this rule, you will lose it for a week.”

“You have one hour a day on Tik-Tok. I have set a timer on your phone and it will turn off after that hour. No exceptions.”

Your kids need a parent with the confidence to say, “You are spending too much time staring at a screen. God didn’t build you to live like this. I want better for you and I will enforce this.”

Your child needs deep connection so badly. Their souls are hangry for real relationships and vulnerable moments with the people right in front of them. Read the Bible with them. Put the phones away and pray together. Hug them. Connect on a soul-level. Keep reminding them that there is a world without the Internet.

You will have to be strict. You will have to say no. You will have to enforce real consequences.

You have to do this–because your kids need this connection so badly.

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