Your teen needed a laptop for school, so you bought it. He needed a phone to keep in touch with you, so after a half-hour argument with him at the wireless store, a “phone” became an iPhone 6. He has an iPad Air because, after you told him it wasn’t in the budget, he spent the weekend with his dad, and voila! He has an iPad.
Now, every time you look at your son, he has a screen in front of his face, barely audible text notifications going off at all hours and he’s on social media sites you’ve never heard of. Suddenly, his use of technology has gone past school work and into a strange kind of secrecy.
I believe the most important thing you can do is open up regular dialogue about your child’s online experiences and approach it with genuine, open curiosity.
Technology is empowering and necessary for kids and for parents. But the longer I work with families in my practice, the more I see technology becoming problematic for them. Think about your child’s smart phone. It’s a very complex device that can be used for good or bad. It’s a communication tool and a wonderful research and study tool. For the kid who struggles to focus on homework, however, it’s a chronic distraction machine—an ADD machine, if you will. It’s a camera and video camera that can broadcast your child’s mistakes and poor choices to the world in seconds. It’s a weapon for bullying and a source of anxiety for kids who are bullied. It’s a reason your son doesn’t get enough sleep at night. It’s a pornography machine at the touch of the wrong link. It’s a device that can expose your young child to things you don’t want her to see. Ever.
How are your kids using technology? Do you know what they’re looking at when they’re curled up on the sofa for five hours with their phones six inches from their face? When you ask them who they’re talking to online, do you get a one-word, snippy answer, if any answer at all? It’s tricky territory for parents. Your teen knows more about the online world than you probably ever will, and it can quickly become another way for your child to behave defiantly with you. So how do you even talk to your child about their online life, interests and safety?
Immobilized Parents: “I don’t know what to do about it, so I’ll do nothing.”
Although they may be wizards with setting up devices and finding cool apps, most kids do not have the emotional intelligence to be able to manage and understand everything they’re seeing online. That’s why parents need to be involved.
Increasingly, though, I see parents becoming immobilized around their kids’ use of technology. They don’t know what to do or where to start, so they do nothing. It’s normal for parents to feel “frozen” and helpless about the online world of their child.
I met a parent recently who had discovered her young son had been watching videos online of people playing Russian Roulette. She was lucky. Her son brought up the subject, instead of keeping it to himself, because he was disturbed by what he saw. Mom felt immobilized. What should she do? Take his phone away? Restrict access? Should she talk to him about what else he’s watching online? Without a clear option, should she do nothing?
Remaining immobilized around your child’s technology use isn’t effective or empowering for you as a parent, and it doesn’t help your child. I believe the most important thing you can do is open up regular dialogue about your child’s online experiences and approach it with genuine, open curiosity. Many kids remain secretive about what they’re doing and seeing online because:
This is why it’s important for parents to engage with their kids about what’s happening online for them. It shouldn’t be a secret in the home. Here are some ways for parents to manage their child’s online life and open dialogue about it that I’ve found to be effective.
7 Ways to Manage Your Child’s Online Life
There’s nothing more powerful than parental influence in a child’s life. But technology holds a seductive type of power for adults and kids that can overwhelm parental influence without us even being aware of it. The antidote to this can be one or two sincere questions that you ask your child and a willingness and courage to allow for whatever the answer is.
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