Teens + Technology

Tong Utakrit, Dr. Darren Price
Today’s high school students are among the first to be immersed in technology since the day they were born: Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, and countless more platforms over the past decade have completely transformed how and when we communicate.
Smart phones have created such a demand for instantaneous responses that teens are even checking them in the middle of the night. This transformative culture has created what educational researcher Marc Prensky calls “digital natives.” Our students are so used to technology being pervasive in their lives that using technology comes naturally to them, like speaking a native language. Adults, however, are considered “digital immigrants.” They had to learn the role of technology in their lives, and, just like learning a new language, it’s sometimes awkward for them to use this new method of communication. 

So how do parents bridge the gap and help their students navigate choices surrounding technology? 

Be willing to engage in conversations even when you may not fully understand the technology. Much of what drives teens to social media is a desire to feel connected. As students get older, it’s natural for them to want to associate more with their peers than their parents. This doesn’t mean parents don’t need to continue to cultivate relationships with them at all. Ask your student to show you how to do something on the phone, or maybe ask them questions about SnapChat, TikTok, or Instagram. “What’s so great about TikTok?” or “Who are some of the people you like to follow on Instagram?” could be great starting points. Help them evaluate the types of relationships they have on social media. These platforms sometimes showcases just “our best” or what we hope life could be. This creates false identities and surface-level relationships instead of true connection, but our students see these images and then feel inadequate when their own lives aren’t picture perfect like on Instagram.

Feel empowered to set boundaries. Sometimes parents feel awkward in setting boundaries because they may not understand technology. A parent might ask their student to leave their phone while working on homework and a student might claim they need to use their phone for their homework. Since parents don’t understand the ins and outs, many will acquiesce and then the student is unable to focus due to being on their phone while “studying.” Appropriate boundaries include keeping technology in public areas (not in bedrooms) as well as not having phones nearby during homework time. If a student says they need to use the phone, have them use it within an area visible by you as the parent so they can do what they need to do and then get back to studying.

Be the parent, not the friend. Similar to setting boundaries, keep in mind that while our teenagers may be very comfortable with technology, they may still not understand how the technology can potentially impact them negatively. It doesn’t take a complicated Google search to find stories of teenagers cyberbullying or even high profile instances of how a moment of poor judgment can impact an individual for a lifetime. Parents should feel comfortable building the relationship with their student and then monitoring what’s on the phone on occasion. This shouldn’t be in an attempt to “catch something” or as a “gotcha” but instead should be used to help springboard discussions. Questions like, “What do you think about what (so and so) posted?” or “Why do you think people feel the need to post that?” could be good conversation starters. Keep in mind, the challenge is to not react extremely if something is found. If students feel like their parents are going to “flip out” or “lose it” if they see something edgy or inappropriate, they are less likely to be open to the conversation. 

For more tips and information on how to help your student navigate the complicated waters of technology and social media, sign up for our upcoming seminar: Teens + Technology next week. Click here to register.