A Guide for Parents: Teenagers and Technology

In the fast moving world of digital technology, parents are frantically searching for the latest information and how to keep their children safe online. Trying to keep up with all the latest trends can feel like a maze, and leave parents feeling dizzy.  In their dizziness, they may tend to go to extreme measures trying to do away with technology or lack concrete boundaries – just hoping for the best. While the tendency to resort to either of these options is tempting, we have compiled a list of our most commonly asked questions to help parents find a moderate answer to the challenges of technology with their teen or pre-teen. We hope these questions and answers help guide parents towards designing limits for technology that are appropriate for their unique families.

How do I protect my children when they are outside the home (e.g. someone else’s house)?

•       Let your kids know the expectations up front and remind them when they leave home.

•       Inform the other parents of your wishes and ask for their support

•       Have a rule that devices do not go to other families’ homes

•       Be prepared to follow through with consequences if the rules are not followed.

 How do I set boundaries with my kids that aren’t punitive?

•       There is no perfect answer to this question because kids are often very resistant to boundaries.

•       Know that kids will most often be resistant to boundaries, but despite this actually operate better with them in place.

•       Know your rationale behind the boundary, and explain this to the kids (but also don’t feel like you have to).

•       Remind yourself that your brain is more developed than theirs, and you do know what is best for them. The decision making part of their brain (the prefrontal cortex) is not developed yet. Parents are there to help with that.

What do I do when my kid is angry and resentful regarding the technology rules?

•       Validate their feelings:

     “I understand that you’re angry that we have these rules, because it seems like everyone else is allowed to do _______.”

•       Use current events and news as teaching opportunities for why the family rules/guidelines are in place

•       Get support from other parents – because it can be hard to reinforce what you know is right when they’re upset.

 How do I address with them what is appropriate for adults regarding technology and what is appropriate for kids?

•       The best rule of thumb is modeling. Kids learn more from what they see you do than from what you say.

•       Remember, though, that the adult brain is more developed and better able to make decisions regarding technology.

•       Mirror to them that part of growing up and becoming an adult is being allowed more privileges – and also more responsibility.

What’s the best way to approach my kids when talking about technology?

•       Use every day experiences – on TV, movies, and radio as teaching opportunities

•       Make it a conversation versus a lecture. For example, ask them what they think, and if appropriate, allow them to have input.

•       Find every opportunity you can to praise them for the ways in which they behave responsibly with technology.

•       Keep asking questions even when they act like they don’t care or don’t want to talk. Hint: Open-ended questions help foster more dialogue.

 What do I do if I find inappropriate content on my child’s device(s)?

•       First of all, gather yourself and avoid “freaking out”

•       Tell your child that you have found it. Model a trustworthy relationship where people are honest with each other even when it is difficult.

•       This is where having set a precedence that you are always monitoring their activity becomes helpful because, then they do not feel as though you have gone behind their back.

•       Explain why this is inappropriate (even if you think they know – repetition is important for their developing brain)

•       Delete the content

•       Determine if there are other controls that need to be in place to prevent this in the future.

•       Notify other parents if their children are involved.

•       Commonly asked questions

Where do I go for support?

•       Depending on the nature of the content, you may need to contact the police (e.g. online predator, adult/minor, etc…)

•       If inappropriate behavior continues (2 or more times), then you may consider seeking a therapist to have your child evaluated.

  Note: The staff at Relatoinship Recovery Center are well versed in their ability to address this with children and the entire family.

•       Online resources – Oddly enough their are a lot of online resources provided for free for parents and teachers to help navigate through these kinds of things.

What is normal in regards to technology use?

•       This is a difficult question to answer because it is ever changing and different for every child.

   Here’s what some of the statistics are saying:

•       Huffington Post reported that the average teens sends 3,417 texts per month (approx. 7/hour)

•       It’s estimated that children ages 8 to 18 spend an average of seven hours a day behind screens. Whether you determine this is acceptable for your family or not is up to you, but it does

 What is not normal (i.e. things to be concerned about)?

•       Your child is not eating or sleeping due to excessive use of technology

•       Your child is consistently irritable when they are away from technology

•       Your child is not socially engaged in face to face relationships and activities.

How do I set boundaries with my kids about technology?

     General Principles to Keep in Mind:

•       If possible, set the boundaries in advance – rather than in the heat of the moment

•       Maintain the boundary (i.e. if it is not respected, then there are consequences)

•       Repeat, Repeat, Repeat – You will need to re-state the boundary over and over again, especially for teenagers. They need repetition.

•       Be prepared for them to resist the boundary and not like the boundary. Know that this reaction is normal.

How do I create space for an ongoing dialogue about technology in your home?

•       In the digital age, having face-to-face conversations becomes more critical than it ever was.

•       Keep in mind that it is all about connecting and building trust. Even if your kids don’t act like it, they want to connect with you. You are still the primary person they look to for answers.

•       Ask meaningful questions, and keep asking. When your teenager knows that you are genuinely interested, they will open up.

•       Keep current – Know that technology isn’t going anywhere, so being informed is your best bet. Also, use current events as a way to foster conversation.