On smart parenting: empowering your kid’s healthy habits and screen time that feels fair

A therapist answers your questions to parent smarter, not harder.

Raising mentally fit tweens and teens is an everyday adventure of ups and downs. Practice makes perfect-ish. We’ve tapped therapist JSRose for advice on all things smart parenting.

Q: How do I encourage my tween and teen to practice healthy eating and exercise habits? — Johnny, father of 3
A: The best way a parent can encourage a tween/teen to practice healthy eating and exercise habits is to model them. Take your child food-shopping with you and buy healthy foods. Let your teen participate in planning and cooking healthy meals. Exercise on a regular basis, more than once weekly. When you can, exercise with your teen. You and your teen, working together, can create lifelong healthy eating and exercise habits.

Q: I have a bad habit of shutting down my teens before hearing them out, “you don’t know what you’re talking about.” How do I curb this and spare us both the headaches? — Michael, father of 2
A: It’s very important for teens, and for all of us, to be given the opportunity to express feelings. If your teen is trying to talk to you, you want to encourage and facilitate that communication. The more times you shut your teen down by not letting him or her speak, the sooner your teen will stop trying to talk to you. In order to break this ‘bad habit,’ stop and think, “how would I feel if my boss/partner/friend spoke to me like that?” Put yourself in your teen’s shoes: which feels better, being heard or being dismissed? If the answer is that you wouldn’t like it, then you know what you have to do. Even if you don’t like what your teen is going to say, and you may even be pleasantly surprised by what he or she says, giving them the space to talk is an important gift — one which empowers them. Empowering teens by hearing their unique voices and viewpoints helps them become stronger and healthier young adults.

Q: What is an effective way to manage screen/phone time without being overly restrictive? — Sally, mother of 4
A: Screen time, and how to negotiate its use, is a problem that many parents are struggling with. No matter the age of your child, he or she will probably want more screen time than you feel is acceptable and you will want your child to use the screen less than he or she finds acceptable. However, you are the parent, you are most likely paying for the phone, and so it is for you to decide the limitations. When discussing this topic with your children you may need to remind yourself, and them, that you own the phone and they are just borrowing it from you. If you have children of varying ages, they may be using the phone for different uses; you will need to have a different time limit for each child. It is not reasonable to expect that a teen will turn off the phone at the same time as an 8 year old.

As with discussing any topic with your child, stay calm, give your reasons, prepare to do some negotiating, allow for emergencies, and move on. If your child has difficulty complying with the limitations, then calmly remind them that the phone is a privilege, not a right. Taking it away at night and returning it in the morning might seem drastic, but it works as an effective way to help your child understand that with rights come responsibilities of behavior.

Q: How do you do your best not to yell at your kids when you’re angry and cultivate common respect without punishment? — Heidi, mother of 3
A: Yelling at your kids when you’re angry, while common, is counter-productive. Kids typically stop listening the second you raise your voice. If you’re angry, you probably aren’t doing a great job of articulating your points. Yelling begets yelling. If you’re angry and really want to talk to your kids, the best thing to do is take some time to calm down. If you tell your child, “We need to talk but right now I need to gather my thoughts,” you are modeling good behavior. You are showing your child that you respect them by not yelling and modeling a healthier and more productive way of responding when upset.

Remember, no one likes to be yelled at — not you and not your kids. While it might be difficult at first, you will both come to appreciate your taking the necessary time to calm down, collect your thoughts, and then quietly addressing the issue at hand.

These community questions were answered by JSRose, LCSW, a Behavioral Health Therapist from the NY Metropolitan Area. Got questions? Submit them here.

Written by Tiffany Wen

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