Q: Dear Janell,
My 17-year-old needs support managing his tech. He struggles with executive functioning, organization & prioritizing school work. We have tried to let him manage on his own, but he ends up with failing grades. Some friends say that I should let him struggle and learn the hard way, that we should not be managing the digital lives of older teens. Also, if I intervene, how will he self-regulate away at college? But I know right now if I leave it all up to him & let him keep his devices overnight & manage his screen time, he does not have the ability to balance it all on his own. He thinks I don’t trust him. I would really appreciate your thoughts on this.
Thank you for reaching out. Here are some of my initial thoughts after reading through your email a few different times.
If your son is failing or struggling, he needs your intervention. It’s not punishment, it’s support. He may or may not be able to manage it when he’s out of your care, but now he is in it. So, provide it while you can.
You won’t be able to control everything, so pick a few key points of focus. It sounds like devices out of the bedroom overnight & grades/prioritizing school work are great places to put your energy.
I think that a house rule of no devices in the bedroom is totally acceptable. Engage him in the conversation around "why" to support your consistency & fairness around the issue. Many families do this (of course, many do not), but I think it’s fine to keep that a general “house rule” while he lives at home.
I do not see this as an issue of trust. I see this as an issue of support. You are not saying he can’t use devices or that you don’t want him on entertainment/social tech at all. You are seeing gaps in his plan for personal success and meeting him there. Free time with his devices, gaming, etc. will be a result of getting his grades up, sleep, healthy habits. And with some behavior modification, he will be more efficient, focused & hopefully less tension.
Generally speaking, I think you can absolutely differentiate your parenting from your friends’ parenting to meet the needs of your child & who he is. I know you know this, but not all 17-year-old teens are created equal & we make accommodations, exceptions and considerations in so many ways at this developmental point.
I would focus on engagement, agency & accountability so he doesn’t feel attacked or defensive - think partnership, not control. The goal is to get him to the point where he can navigate & make reasonable choices for himself 100% of the time with his workflows & his screen time. But he may need more prolonged support for now. Don't be afraid to lead.