Recently, psychologist Dr. Leonard Sax visited Harford County for a presentation called “Instagram Ate My Daughter, My Son Won’t Stop Playing Fortnite, What Can I Do?”

Part of Sax’s talk, as indicated by the title, focused on electronic media — social media, video games and the like — as well as popular culture influences, which Sax said are “now toxic for children and teenagers.”

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But the takeaway from Sax’s presentation shouldn’t be that social media can be bad for a teen’s mental health or that many video games are excessively violent — although both of those are true — it’s that parents should probably take a look in the mirror first when concerned about this sort of behavior in their own children.

Sax has written four books for parents; the most recently released in 2015 is titled “The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups.” His premise is that, over the years, there has been a transfer of authority from parents to children.

“In many families, what kids think and what kids like and what kids want now matters as much, or more, than what their parents think and like and want. ‘Let kids decide’ has become a mantra of good parenting,” he writes, “... these well-intentioned changes have been profoundly harmful to kids.”

To Sax’s point, if a parent is concerned their child is spending too much time on their smartphone at night or in front of the television and not enough time playing outside or socializing with other kids, or their grades are suffering because of it, it means its probably time for Mom or Dad to put their foot down.

The child only has access to social media or video games because the parent has allowed that to be OK.

It is far more difficult for parents who have already ceded authority to their now pre-teen or teenage children, but it is possible to rein it back in.

Now, there is a big difference between being an authoritative parent who sets boundaries and has high standards, but is willing to have discussions with children about those limits, and an authoritarian parent who also sets strict limits but lives by the phrase “because I said so.”

The latter style has proven to be harmful to kids' development and may lead to mental issues such as depression and anxiety, and generally leads to lower academic performance, according to scientific research. Taking away a child's smartphone or video game system outright can backfire.

Instead, parents should take a less heavy-handed approach and explain to their children why they want to limit screen time or access to certain social media platforms or games. Set rules about acceptable use and time and explain why. And give your child an opportunity to make their case, but ultimately know the parent is the boss.

This applies just about everywhere, not just when it comes to electronic media — parents should give their children a say and encourage them to make good choices, but also explain the consequences of those choices, positive and negative, and be clear about boundaries and their expectations.

Kids may not always be happy with the rules you set, but a parent’s job isn’t to make their kids happy all the time.

Wayne Carter is the editor of the Aegis. Reach him at wcarter@theaegis.com.

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