Teens are surrounded by screens. They likely can’t remember a time without computers, cell phones, the Internet or Facebook. So using technology — even most of the time — may seem very natural to them. It’s all they know.
Of course, it’s also natural that parents struggle with their teen’s reliance on technology. Maybe you put limits on how long your kids can use their computers at night. Maybe you don’t allow cell phones at the dinner table. Maybe you put restrictions on websites they can visit.
In her new book Screens and Teens: Connecting with Our Kids in a Wireless World, Kathy Koch, Ph.D, encourages parents to teach their kids how to think about technology. This way you can guide your child in making good decisions about using technology on their own.
Koch recommends asking questions. This is different from interrogating your teen or putting restrictions without any discussion. Instead, help your teen to dig deeper to better understand how they use technology, how they’d like to use it, and how it fits into their lives.
Here are questions you can help your teen consider, which come from Screens and Teens. Explore these questions, too, because so many of us plug in mindlessly, and end up modeling the very behavior we preach against to our kids.
- What kind of online world do I want to have?
- Do I want my online world to consist of more people than those who make me happy?
- Would I want this person who wants to connect with me online (or who I want to connect with) in my offline world?
- Are my tech habits helping me to connect with others, including my parents and siblings? Or are they driving me away from others?
- Is my online behavior appropriate?
- Am I being the “me” I want to be?
- Is the content I’m looking at and paying attention to appropriate?
- What am I passionate about?
- What do I stand for?
- Does my use of technology support my passions and values?
- Does my use of technology help me find other things I might like to prioritize? Koch gives an example of a teen who uses technology to help underresourced kids get vision screenings. She uses her computer to research eye doctors in the area so she can ask them to donate their time for the screenings.
- What are my needs and goals?
- Does my use of technology support them?
- What are my commitments?
- Does my use of technology help me to stay committed?
- Does it connect me to other things I’d like to commit to? Or does it undermine my commitments?
- What healthy habits and rhythms am I creating in my life?
- Does my use of technology support my habits?
- Am I using social media right now because I need approval?
- Would it be more helpful to talk to someone offline about my feelings?
- Is this a moment I’d like to share or protect?
- What would the other people involved think if I posted about this?
- What are the benefits of this remaining private?
- Am I relating to others in a healthy way online, such as being positive, kind and honest?
- Am I too dependent on technology? That is, am I controlling it or is it controlling me?
Pick the questions that resonate with you. Explore them for yourself. You can even share your responses with your teen. Then suggest your teen explore these questions regularly. Talk to your kids about what technology means to them. Help them make thoughtful, wise decisions around it.
Teen in shower with phone photo available from Shutterstock