The New Odd Girl Out: Back to School Tech Rules for Girls & Families

By | August 30th, 2011 | 7 comments

It’s a moment of great expectation: pencils are sharpened, binders are crisp, and hope abounds for new friendships, successes and growth. It’s also a time when a window opens for change at home and at school: new wakeup times, new carpools, new class schedules.

This is a perfect moment for parents to think about how they want their kids to engage with social media – and introduce any new rules for the school year. A recent study found that over half of teens text more over the summer, making the need for a serious conversation about use and limits even more vital.

Most middle and high school girls need their parents to limit social media use. They are not able to do it on their own. Many girls are addicted to social media because, simply put, they are addicted to their relationships. And social media intensifies the insecurity many girls already feel about their relationships.

In 2010, only three out of ten young people had rules limiting tech use. But here’s the good news: kids with rules used social media three hours less than peers with no rules. As hard as this battle can be, it’s worth it. In the newly revised and updated Odd Girl Out, I’ve listed strategies for parents to limit social media use. Here are a few:

1.    Create a cell phone parking area. Establish a place in your home where cell phones are parked and charged (and, if possible, silenced) during preset times.  It might be during homework time, dinner, or when friends come over. With fewer external stimuli, family members can focus on each other and on important tasks.

2.    Prohibit sleeping with phones. Many girls rest their phones under their the pillows or on their chests so they can wake up if someone texts. If drama is afoot, late night texts quickly become irrational and explosive. Girls lose sleep, too. Park the phone at night somewhere else, and if you’re not sure she’ll leave it there, put it under your own pillow and turn it off. Yes, I’m serious.

3.    Limit social media during homework. With the constant disruption of a vibrating phone or blinking chat window, kids do not develop habits to sustain longer periods of work, focus and thought. Scientists call this study time “rich learning,” the kind of knowledge required for higher order thinking tasks like math and reading. With social media used during homework, kids end up multi tasking, or switching rapidly between different tasks. Multitasking does not allow for rich learning and results in epic amounts of distraction.

If moderating Internet access is not an option, focus on the cell phone. Implement a 15 minute texting break following 45 minutes of work without a phone. Internet safety expert Lori Getz suggests asking kids to try homework one night while suing social media, then the next night without it. After the two nights, talk with your daughter about the difference in learning, efficiency and effectiveness she experienced.

As you undertake these changes, keep a few things in mind:

1.    Change takes time. Remember, you are developing new habits in your family. This means repeating something over and over again, understanding that some days will be harder than others. Sticking to it, no matter what, is key. If you’ve ever accomplished an athletic feat, remember how long it took to train, and how you gradually progressed. Same is true here.

2.    Don’t give in at first. Just like a teacher who has to establish her authority with the class before she makes exceptions and softens up, you must also be the heavy until your rules are respected.

3.    Explain why. Let your kids know why these rules are important to you, and to them. It doesn’t mean negotiating. It means showing your kids you respect them as individuals who deserve to understand why they must comply with certain expectations.

This post is based on the newly revised and updated Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. The new OGO includes four new chapters on girls, bullying, social media and parenting in a digital age. Order it now!

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