Teens and Technology

Frequently parents ask me about their teen and technology. How young is too young for a cellphone? Should I tell my teen that I put a GPS on their phone? Monitoring software on their computers? Should I go through my teens phone and computer? Do I take away their phone/ipad/ipod/computer as a consequence for bad behavior?

Let’s be honest, technology is everywhere and unavoidable. Your teen will spend more time on some type of phone and/or computer in a day then they do in all other activities combined in a week. Shocking, isn’t it?

I had a teen years ago that sent over 36,000 texts in one month. You read that right….36,000 TEXTS in ONE month.

I know what you must be thinking. “Well she must have had too much time on her hands.” Not at all. She was a straight A student (including AP classes) and heavily involved in school activities. Who were most of her texts to, you may ask? Friends and her boyfriend mainly, but also included her parents, making arrangements for games and extra curriculum activities, even her after school jog. However, with all that said, I’m sure we can agree that 36,000 texts is over kill and a LOT of screen time.

This type of attention to a screen, no matter the medium, has started to erode our young people’s ability to have a normal face to face conversation. Today’s employers have complained that millennials, have been known, to be some of the worse interviewers, AND worse employees to receive constructive feedback in the workplace.

So how, as parents and concerned adults, do we help navigate our young people through this high-tech world? I thought I’d answer some of the more common questions I receive from parents.

1. How young is too young for my child to get a phone?

This is a hard one for sure. My ten-year- old nephew came home crying one day because he didn’t have a phone and all of his friends do. I get it. It almost seems as though a phone is a normal as shoes and socks. So, I tell parents that it’s important to understand that when they hand their child/pre-teen a phone, they are handing them a potential bomb! What I mean is that the information that anyone at any time can assess via phone is overwhelming. They can run across things that they never would have tried to search themselves, but now they see and hear it. And of course there are ways to block access to some of that info, but even within those restraints there’s information that can pop up. That leads me to my next recurrent question.

2. Should I tell my kid that I am monitoring their phone/ipad/ipod/computer?

Absolutely! Here’s one way to look at it. If you are “secretly” monitoring your son or daughter, you are indirectly teaching them that it is okay to be sneaky and secretive. If your teen finds out that they are being monitored without their knowledge it could cause them to lose trust, try to find a way to avoid your prying eyes, and/or show them it’s okay for stuff to be hidden or not talked about.

Without expectation, I have seen, experienced and witnessed that the best way to help your young person navigate this HUGE responsibility safely is to be open, honest and direct. If you feel it will help keep them safe to add monitoring software to their computers’ then let them know and explain why. If they have broken your trust because they haven’t handled their technology responsibly then sit down and talk with them and explain why you feel it’s important for you to add parental controls or GPS’ to their phone.

3. Why do I feel guilty that I am not ready to give my child a phone? Or that I want to monitor their computer usage?

Again, because technology is EVERYWHERE. There are children as young as 4 years old that have their own phone. School’s now use IPads instead of textbooks. Many high schools and colleges require their students to turn in their homework online. It’s simply unavoidable.

Technology is an amazing thing. It has created an incredible convenience factor for all of us. It even serves as a method to keeping our children safe. I don’t blame adults, at all, for wanting to be able to keep tabs on their kids. I mean this modern world is unpredictable, exciting and dangerous. Knowing where your teen is at any time, I believe, is essential for most parents to just feel sane.

So what’s the balance? I think that’s entirely up to your comfort level and how you want to help your younger person with their technology. However, you are the parent and if you are not feeling like it’s time for to give complete technology freedom to your son or daughter then it’s not time. Guilt over technology is more about what we feel society is saying verses what we feel is best for our families. Plus, there are numerous ways to give kids the option of being “connected” while you are still apart of the equation.

4. With safety in schools, as a real issue today, do I use their technology as a consequence for behavior?

You are the parent and that is entirely up to you!!! I do tell parents that if their teen is “hooked” on their music, TV, YouTube, Snapchat, etc., then yes, their technology could be used as a consequence. The whole idea behind punishment and reward as consequences is so our children “feel” the significance of their actions. Trust me, a teenage girl will never feel something as deeply as you taking their group texts or FaceTime away for a week. And I know that safety today is something we have to implement, but your kids have access to phones no matter what. Everyone around them has a phone or computer. If they need to get a hold of you they can, just remember to have them memorize YOUR phone number.

As a parent or concerned adult it’s crucial to be knowledgeable and involved in what our young people are doing. Keeping a pulse on their technology helps keep them safe while allowing them to be engaged in their world. Plus, it helps provide you with a better understanding of how they communicate about their life and what’s important to them.

I always encourage the adults I work with to try and have open communication with the kids in their lives. The world is rapidly changing and things come in and out of their awareness at unprecedented pace, so it’s essential for all of us, as concerned adults, to know where their attention is focused. It really can make all the difference.