QUESTION: My teenager is constantly texting or on the phone and is not showing any interest in doing things with the family. Do you have some suggestions on how we can re-engage our child and help her want to do things with the family again?
JULI: No doubt about it, technology is a significant obstacle for communication in the average American family, especially with teens in the home. Here's a two-prong strategy to deal with it:
First of all, set boundaries on the use of technology in your home. Don't make this about your teenager; make it about the kind of home environment that you want to establish. Some reasonable and helpful boundaries include no technology at meal times, during carpool, or in the bedroom. Set those boundaries for yourself as well as for your kids.
Honestly, I am just as guilty as my 13-year-old son is when it comes to letting technology interrupt family time. Sure, I don't text someone every three seconds or play video games, but how often am I pulled away from my family to check email or take a quick call?
Second, make family time a priority. Often, we as parents decide to have family time on the spur of the moment when our schedule finally clears. We expect our kids to drop everything and be excited about bonding with Mom and Dad. Plan regular family times during which your kids know that you expect them to be engaged. These can include a dinner routine of talking about your day, Friday night game or movie nights, or a planned weekend getaway.
Don't take it personally if your teen still prefers her cell phone to you. Even when your kids are less than enthusiastic about a family event, it still provides a critical connection with you.
QUESTION: In order to tighten up the family budget, we recently got rid of our premium satellite TV package and switched to basic cable. But that's not cheap, either. Can you suggest other ways to trim our entertainment budget without going totally TV-free?
JIM: First, let me say that there are worse things than going TV-free. The Daly household eliminated the nightly TV routine from our home long ago, and we haven't regretted it for a minute. Don't knock it 'til you've tried it!
However, if you're not ready to take that step, there's still a way to enjoy TV without paying for it on a monthly basis. The New York Times reports that a growing number of families are saving money by canceling their cable service altogether and attaching a good, old-fashioned antenna to their TV sets.
There are a number of TV antenna models available, and a decent one will generally cost anywhere between $25 and $150. But that's a one-time expense. There's no monthly fee after that. Of course, you won't get the wide variety of sports, movies and other programming that cable offers. But you'll get more than enough channels to keep up with the news and weather, and maybe a few of your favorite shows. And if you live in a large urban area, your choices expand dramatically. The Nielsen Group reports that there are more than 40 free broadcast channels available in Los Angeles, for example.
Just think -- your parents and grandparents survived for decades watching only a handful of channels on broadcast TV. I doubt whether any of them would suggest they were somehow "missing out" by not having hundreds and hundreds of channels to choose from. You and your family might consider the same arrangement ... and save yourselves hundreds of dollars a year in the process!
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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