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Teens And Facebook: What To Do When Your Child Won't Sign Off

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Dear Susan,

My 15-year old daughter's entire life revolves around her Facebook world. Her schoolwork is suffering and she is irritable whenever we try to get her to come to dinner or spend any time with the family. She stays up late chatting with friends and is tired all the time. When I threaten to take it away, she says I'm the only one of her friends' parents who is so strict about it. What should I do?

Signed,
Fighting with Facebook

Dear Fighting,

Facebook has undeniably brought enormous benefits to people worldwide -- we can reunite with relatives who moved away, stay in touch with friends in other countries and share photos with them all.

But then there's the downside. It makes users lose track of time and disengage from the real world in such a way that can create problems like yours.

There are many factors to consider in parenting a child in the digital age. Here are a few:

Address the need that Facebook is filling for your daughter. I hear your complaint and concern about digital addiction from parents everywhere. Facebook has an irresistible appeal to teens, and they aren't managing it well. It's important to address the underlying void it's filling for many kids: the need to feel they belong, to feel connected to their peer group and to present themselves as cool and current. Help your daughter acknowledge the legitimate need that makes Facebook so compelling, and let her know that it's like eating potato chips when you need a good meal; empty calories don't have the same ability to truly nourish.

What to say:

"I see how important Facebook is to you, and I understand that limiting your access must feel like a major blow to your social life. I get it, it's like a lifeline to your friends. Let's talk about other ways you can spend time with friends -- in real life -- to help you stay connected."

Give up on the notion that your daughter will appreciate your concern or thank you for setting limits. She won't. It's going to be up to you to create parameters that reflect her need for sleep, family time, schoolwork and other activities.

What to say:

"I know it seems we're mean, and it's possible that we're the only parents who are laying down restrictions. But for now, Facebook/computer time is going to shut down at 10:00 p.m. Please make sure you've used the Internet for any homework needs before then, honey, because the router goes off at 10:00."

Take a digital vacation as a family. Many kids are furious at their parents when they try to limit their use of Facebook and online activities because they have come to believe it's their right to have access. In some cases, a clean break of one to two weeks (some families have done longer) can reset a teen's expectations; after not using Facebook at all for a period of time, you may find your daughter more able to manage a more realistic amount of time each day without feeling as desperate to log on.

What to say:

"We've asked you to cooperate with cutting down your Facebook time and focusing on homework and spending time with the family, as well as getting a good night's sleep. That hasn't worked very well. So for the next week (two weeks...) you'll be able to use the family computer in the living room, but Facebook is off limits. After that, we'll see if you're able to set up a healthier balance between Facebook activities and the real world, in which case you'll be able to use it again, within reason."

You aren't alone in your frustration and concern about the impact Facebook is having on your daughter. I could write pages about the impact I'm seeing on kids; it's a significant problem, and a bit like a runaway train in that it sneaked up on parents so suddenly, that most of us have been caught unprepared for handling it the way we might have been ready to deal with other teen issues.

No doubt your question will generate many opinions about how to handle The Facebook Situation. I trust that simply by having this conversation, we'll all continue to learn how to get a handle on this fascinating, compelling and potentially addictive addition to our lives.

Parent Coach, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.