Recently the Today Show began broadcasting a series called, "Teens Tell All", reported by Stephanie Gosk. I was expecting one of their typical puff pieces, but I was wrong. What I saw were eight Colorado high school students, ages 15-17, who spoke honestly about what it's like being a teenager in today's world. It certainly wasn't a feel good story.
The young people spoke about sexting (sending or receiving nude photos) as young as sixth grade, that's it's easier to "hook up" (have a casual sexual relationship) than hold somebody's hand, slut shaming (criticizing a woman for real or presumed sexual activity), and attending prescription "pill parties" where you drop a pill in a bowl and take one for yourself.
When the discussion got to parents, it was clear the teens thought we are clueless—not having any idea of what they face in high school. And maybe they're right.
They mentioned pressure to take advance classes, maintain high grade point averages, be involved in sports and clubs, all while being socially active. And then one girl added, "With all of that, our parents' expect us to find time to talk to them."
Their advice for parents is to trust them, offer guidance, but also let them "learn for themselves."
They're right, but in order for us to do that, we have to, we must, find time to talk to our kids.
How do we manage that with the crazy busy schedules we're all locked into? I think the second, Teens Tell All, segment offered a solution.
This time Gosk, with the help of the producers of Screenagers, a film about the obsession teenagers feel for their digital devices, found a group of sophomores who reluctantly agreed to give up their phones, laptops (except for schoolwork), gaming, and social media for a week.
In the beginning they hated it. One said he was "going insane." Another complained about being bored. But toward the end of the week, things began to change.
They talked about doing chores, homework, reading books – and most important, "hanging out with their family."
And that's when I decided the gift I want from my family this holiday, is for everyone to shun digital devises for a day and spend time together. I invite you to do the same.
I know it's not going to be easy. We're all addicted, but let's give it a try.
Ask everyone in the family to pick an indoor activity if the weather is bad and an outdoor adventure if you don't mind fighting the holiday traffic.
There are so many possibilities. Cook a meal together and make it into a game by having a home version of Holiday Cakes Wars. Pull out a deck of cards and teach your kids how to play Go Fish if they're little, and Gin Rummy or Blackjack for teens. Venture to a museum, park, movie, or the mall.
The only rules are turn off your digital devices and spend the time talking and listening. If you're not sure how to get the teens in your life to start the conversation, there's lots of help with some terrific inventive games like Conversations To Go or Tabletopics.
Give it a try, even if only for a few hours. Who knows, maybe like the teens in the experiment, after a bit of time you might find that everyone is engaged and having fun.
The most precious gift a parent can give a child is quality time. The effects last a lifetime.