Yelling is the most commonly used form of discipline with teenagers. It is also probably the most ineffective form of discipline because it hardly ever changes your child’s behavior. They simply become immune to your elevated volume and emphatic tone of voice to the point where it becomes almost white noise meaningless. Yelling is only effective when it is used rarely and judiciously, which most parents do not do.
If you are the parent of a teenager, it is likely that you yell or even scream at them. Does this sound like you?
Turn that video game off!!
Get ready for bed!!
C’mon, get up and get ready for school!!
Leave your sister alone!!
If you don’t put that phone down I will take it away!!
In some way, either directly or indirectly, all of the above yelling commands, and the countless others you may find yourself repeating to your teenager, has a link to a screen. According to the latest research, teenagers are now spending more than 9 hours a day in front of screens. If you parcel out the amount of time they are sleeping, that calculates to more than half of their waking life.
Video game play, cell phone use, YouTube watching, and general device use has turned your teenager into a Screenager. And that has transformed you into a ScreamParent. It is either an excessive amount of time on screens, screen use interfering with homework or chores, screens keeping them up at night causing difficulty getting ready for school in the morning, begging you for screen time, or even thinking about their cell phone or video game even when they are not in front of the device. FOMO (fear of missing out) is a very real thing when it comes to Screenagers. Their minds are on the texts, social media posts, or what their friends are doing on Fortnite even when they are not able to use their devices. Your yelling is ridiculously losing the competition for their need for screens. So instead of yelling, try doing the following:
- At a calm time, when you see that periodic window that your Screenager is receptive to discussion, present the repeated behavioral issue you are having with him or her. Remain calm and let them know, in a positive way, how you want them to improve.
- Maintain your own attitude, and communicate it to them, that their cell phones, iPads, video game system, and computer are not rights, they are privileges. And with all privileges, if they are not handled responsibly and maturely, they are taken away.
- Set clear limits in terms of when and how long they are permitted to use their devices. Remain firm with that structure and outline the consequences if they do not comply.
- With the structure in place, use the baseball method of “3 strikes and you‘re out.” That is, make your request to have them do, or stop doing, something. After a minute or two, tell them that “this is the second time I am asking you to (identify request again), if I have to ask you a third time you will lose your phone, video game time, screen time, etc. for one day. After another minute or two, simply inform them, without yelling, that they lost their privilege and then just walk away without further discussion.
- Once they are consistently complying with your rules, once in a while, give them extra screen time letting them know how much you appreciate how cooperative they have been with their screens.
- Model appropriate screen behavior. That is, do not text while driving, check your phone at dinner when there is a no cell phone rule at dinner, use your phone excessively, look at your phone when they are speaking to you, etc.
These fundamental disciplinary strategies will help you reduce the frequency of your yelling. Always remember that the evidence of your good parenting will not be apparent until your kids are much older. You may feel frustrated or that they are not hearing what you are saying, but it becomes evident, usually in their low 20s that they really did hear you.
Dr. Michael Osit is a Licensed Psychologist practicing in Warren, and author of The Train Keeps Leaving Without Me: A Guide to Happiness, Freedom, and Self Fulfillment (2016), and Generation Text: Raising Well Adjusted Kids In An Age Of Instant Everything (2008).