A few days ago, a young person I know said to me, “I’ve been wondering, how did everybody survive before cell phones, back in the day?” After mentally thanking her for not saying “in olden times,” I told her about the not-so-recent past when we made plans ahead of time and stuck to them, carried quarters so we could use public phones, and hoped that someone would stop to help us when our cars broke down on the highway.
The conversation got me thinking about the parents of teenagers that I work with. These are great parents who care deeply about their kids, and who give them lots of attention and love. But often, when it comes to dealing with their teens and technology, they are at a loss. It is so much harder to understand and set limits on behavior that we have no experience with. Parents might be great at setting limits with homework, chores and dating, but they can feel they have entered new territory when it comes to rules around cell phones, the Internet, Facebook, texting, iPods and electronic games. And, teenagers can be so emphatic in demanding that they need total freedom with their gadgets!
A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only about 30% of adolescents have any rules about using the Internet, TV or video games. That means that the vast majority of American kids and teens have absolutely no limits being set on their use of technology. This same study found that the average teenager is “hooked up” to something, whether an iPod or the Internet or games or TV, 7.5 hours per day. Add in that they are often multitasking on two or more devices at once, and that time goes up to 10.5 hours per day.
Parents worry about the dangers of the Internet, but there are also considerations such as teens losing sleep because they take their phones to bed to them and text all night, teens using their phones for “sexting,” and many teens seemingly removed from their real lives while they lose themselves in games and music and ignore everything around them.
Parents can find lots of help on this issue by searching Google for “parenting teens.” But most experts’ advice comes down to three points: communicate, monitor and set limits.
First, communicate your values to your children. They need to hear directly from you what kind of behavior is OK and what is not. Even more importantly, it is essential to learn to listen to our adolescents. Listening means not talking. Listening means asking a question and not judging the answer, and not jumping in to offer advice or admonishments. Believe it or not, studies have shown that teenagers wish they could talk to their parents more, and that can occur when parents encourage their teens by listening more.
Monitoring can mean moving the computer into public space like the dining room so teens do not use the Internet or TV behind closed doors. Or it can mean buying software that will tell you exactly where your teen has gone online and what amount of time was spent there. It is also essential to stay current with the technology your teen uses, which can be a challenge. But the most important thing is good old-fashioned parenting: Keep track of what they are doing and pay attention to the details.
Finally, don’t be afraid to set limits and stick to them. Some helpful rules:
- Turn in all electronics at bedtime. Teens will text all night if allowed to.
- Keep the computer in a public place.
- Have specific periods when there is a “no-tech” rule: during dinner, on walks, while having special family time.
- Do not believe that “everyone else gets to do it!”
- Talk to other parents.
- Consider having teens earn the right to phones/games/iPods and even pay for them.
- Don’t be afraid to take gadgets away the first time guidelines for their use are broken.
Even though this may be a 21st century issue, the solutions are basic. We can protect and guide our teens by applying what we already know about good parenting: pay attention, listen, say “no” when appropriate and express love every day.
Jamie Guyn, M.S., QMHP, is director of Strong Families Eugene and teaches Parenting Teens with Success classes. She is a long-time counselor and parent educator. Parenting Now! is a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening families through parent support and education. Explore this site; visit us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram; or call 541-484-5316. Family Info Line is also available; call 211, extension 5, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.