A recent study at Indiana University showed a direct relationship between playing violent video games incessantly over an extended period of time and a consequent change in brain regions associated with cognitive function and emotional control.
So how do we help teens make better decisions in the hobbies that they choose , the amount of time they spend on each one and who they spend the time with?
5 Rules For Healthy Hobbying.
1. 33.3 – 33.3 – 33.3 – Divide the time into thirds.
One third should be whatever they want (within reason).
One third should be something you decide together (something generative; ie music, dance, comedy, martial arts, a book club, public speaking, etc.)
One third should be something outdoors; scouts, walking, hiking, being with the pooch … something physical and electronics free.
2. Let them make these decisions.
Think of your concerns. Write them down. "Sell" it to them and if it does not work find an argument they will agree with: if you do x and y you can do z and I will not give you any justification for the 33.3% of your time. They have to buy in to this program for it to work.
3. Be their parent. Most of my student clients tell me what they want most of their parents is not a friend or a judge or jailer but a sounding board that is there when they need them, who lets them make mistakes and learn from them (within reason) and believes in them to figure it out.
4. Set Limits . The parents laws should not be broken but a child should be allowed to rise above the law. In one of my classes a "fun" exercise was getting long in the tooth for me but the students loved it. I suggested that we do it once in a blue moon. A few weeks later one of the students raised his hand and said: "This is the second moon of the month", so we did the exercise. I also pointed out that he had followed my rules and used them to get what he had wanted.
5. Do not sweat the studies . If we worry about every potential danger ahead of us, we will never leave our house and most kids today do not, so what message are we sending them? Do not sweat the friends. If you follow rule # 1 they will find a wider selection of friends outside of the scary stuff. Nothing makes an undesirable friend more interesting than your approval.
A parent was voicing his concern to me again about his child and a habit he thought my client had continued, a habit that I had not put on the list above. I asked my client what his thoughts were about his Father's concerns (we knew he was no longer indulging that habit at that time); His reply was " I can not be responsible for the fears of my parents ".
So what should you take away from all of this? My clients really care about their parents and I know their parents care about them. They are lucky for that. These awkward years require opportunities for trying things out but still learning moderation, pushing the limits but respecting the laws and mostly having parents show their faith and forgo their fear (well, maybe not for skydiving).