How to help your teenager develop a healthy and safe relationship with technology
When I was a teenager, the telephone was in the living room. When I used it, my mother was aware. When I used it for too long; stayed up late, avoided my homework or my chores, she took note and asked me to hang up.
Nowadays, with tablets, computers and smartphones, teenagers have 24/7 access to everything and everyone: WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, email, friends, strangers and much more.
As adults, we are often unaware of what teenagers are up to. Their devices are not in the middle of the living room. They have them in their pockets and can take them wherever they want, which of course they do.
Thanks to these devices we can reach our teenagers when we need them and they can reach us too. They can also access information to educate and inform themselves, maintain and develop supportive relationships, form their identities and promote a sense of belonging; especially now that schools are closed and they have less contact with their friends.
The internet and the use of technology is a big part of their daily life. When online or engaged with technology, they can study for school, play games, follow groups or people they like, create and share photos or videos, comment on and discuss things with others, stay connected with friends and be involved in diverse communities through social media, email and online messaging.
Not everything about social media and technology is negative, yet sometimes it seems like they spend too much time online and not always in an appropriate manner. Let’s consider the risks of being online, such as: cyberbullying, trolling, social isolation, watching inappropriate material and being involved in unsuitable relationships. Our goal should be to teach and help our teenagers to use technology in a way that maximises the benefits while minimising the risks.
Just as we set rules and healthy boundaries for offline behaviour, we need to give our teenagers the tools to make careful decisions and to learn how to be responsible and respectful digital citizens. In short: we need to protect them when online.
Here are some tips to encourage you and your teenager to use technology responsibly.
- Start by setting a healthy limit for the amount of recreational screen time your teenager engages in every day. Make your focus the quality of your teenagers’ interaction with their devices. Think of where your teenager is looking for information, how they can identify reliable sources of information and how to avoid the unhealthier aspects of the web. Ensure your teenager only has access to suitable games and apps. Is your teenager using screen time as a distraction or a means of avoiding other beneficial activities? This will help you find the fine line between healthy and unhealthy use of technology.
- Have a direct talk. Technology is a part of our life and it is important to your teen. Help your teenager understand that we all should use it responsibly, that means in this case, sticking to the rules you establish for its use.
- As we know, teenagers tend to follow examples rather than orders. So, show moderation in your own online activity. Your digital lifestyle has a great impact on your teenager’s. If you cannot disconnect from your own devices and insist on regularly checking your phone at the dinner table, how can you expect your teenager to do otherwise?
- Keep in mind that these devices are not toys. It’s important to wait until your teen is mature enough to use them responsibly. Remember that smartphones, for instance, allow users to access the entire Internet. Do not rush into buying one for your teenager.
- The best way to help teenagers manage their use of technology is to set and enforce rules for technology use. This will also reduce the chance that technology turns out as a source of conflict between you and your teenager. And just like any other rules, you need to be very clear about technology use and be prepared to enforce the rule. Don’t forget to review and adjust the rules according to your teenager’s age and level of maturity.
- Monitor, don’t snoop! You need to have some idea what your teenager is doing with the devices, but let them know before you check their device. Consider using parental controls to prevent exposure to age-inappropriate material and to manage time limits. Don’t forget to continuously discuss respectful and responsible online behavior. Remember the goal is to train treenagers to manage their own usage.
- Accept the fact that the internet and technology are important to your teenager. Instead of being opposed to what your teenager loves, try embracing it! You can use it as a new way to connect with your teenager during these challenging years.
- Balance is the key! We all, including our teenagers, need to learn how to moderate the time we spend on things that we like. You teenager might need support to find the balance between recreational time online, physical exercise and face-to-face interaction with people.
Remember, your young one is never too old to have screen-free dinners around a table, or go for a screen-free walk togethe