We’re in the midst of a historical first. The first generation of children raised entirely on smartphones, the iGeneration, is facing a skyrocketing mental illness rate, and studies suggest that too much screen time is to blame. In fact, suicide in teenage girls is the highest that it’s been in over 40 years. What can we do to protect our children? Science tells us that children and teens with high EQ have lower rates of mental illness, so the answer is to improve emotional intelligence… but that’s not always easy when kids are glued to a screen.
Here’s how to improve emotional intelligence in your teenager, regardless of her screen addiction:
#1: Establish Routines for Unplugged Time
Implement a household-wide (this includes the adults!) routine for going unplugged. Banning smartphones entirely is impractical, especially when they’re such a key part of communication these days, but you can limit screen time by scheduling routines together so everyone gets a break from scrolling through social media.
For instance, try limiting phone use during family time, whether that means watching TV together or going out for mini golf. You can also limit phone use during homework time, though this isn’t necessarily a household-wide approach. It’s important that you make an effort to minimize screen time yourself, so your teen doesn’t feel like he’s being unfairly singled out.
#2: Counter-Balance Tech Time
Smartphone time can naturally balance itself out when you implement other activities into your child’s routine. Talk to her about her interests, and help her get involved in clubs, classes, or teams that she wants to try. Every hour that she plays lacrosse or volunteers at an animal shelter is an hour that she’s not looking at her phone, and instead connecting with the world and building emotional intelligence via social exposure.
#3: Promote Healthy Living Habits
You can’t have emotional health without bodily health, and it’s all too common for teenagers to sacrifice sleep and food for smartphone time.
Try to discourage smartphone use at bedtime in favor of relaxing activities, such as reading, meditating, or using Headspace. At the dinner table, keep your phone turned off and ask that your child does the same, so you can focus on eating mindfully instead of eating while staring at a screen.
When he’s fully rested and properly nourished, his brain is in a better place to make and foster emotional connections and related skills, such as self-management and emotional regulation.
#4: Model EQ
The best way to teach EQ is to model it, and modeling it means practicing it yourself. Talk to your kids about the importance of learning EQ subskills such as empathy and mindfulness, and then let them see it in action. You can start by:
- Using smart conflict resolution, such as “I feel” statements.
- Communicating assertively and clearly, e.g. when you have a disagreement with your child over the level of cleanliness in her room, don’t get frustrated and walk away; instead, negotiate a cleaning schedule with her.
- Practicing positive mirroring by pointing out strengths and gifts, such as his thoughtfulness or her ability to listen empathetically.
- Expressing compassion and empathy for others, both in person and while watching TV or movies together.
If you have a teenager who’s glued to a screen, it’s time to start practicing and supporting EQ at home, and hopefully counter-balance the mental health effects of excessive smartphone time. However, it doesn’t make sense to stop at home when teenagers spend the majority of each day at school. It’s clear that there’s a need for social and emotional learning programs at schools, so our children know how to improve emotional intelligence before they become victim to excessive screen time. Call your school district today; give your child the start he deserves.