When children make their first trip out to a store on their own, parents are clear about the benefits of the increasing independence. Our guidelines for their safety may have been: stop at the corner, wait for the light and don’t talk to strangers.
Teens need the same kind of parental guidance as they take their first independent steps out onto the Internet.
Guiding teens’ technology use
Just as they are naïve about how the world works, most teens—contrary to popular belief—are also naïve about the Internet. For example, lots of young people don’t realise that Google searches can be biased. Advertisers can blur the lines between ads, content, entertainment, and social media.
To make matters more difficult, the brain undergoes tremendous changes in the teen years, especially between 12 and 15 years of age.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to guiding teens’ technology use. The combination of technological and social change and normal adolescent development creates a huge challenge for today’s parents. Understanding these changes can help parents better guide their young teens in the wise use of technology.
Five research-based tips
Support teens’ social lives online and off
Teens are absorbed by their social lives—it’s one way nature nudges them out of the nest. Social media actually meets an important need. By tagging friends, commenting on posts, and uploading photos, teens build on offline relationships.
Parents can guide, discuss and model healthy relationship skills. Stay in conversation with them to help them express themselves in healthy ways.
Support their focus on their new interests
This includes sports, hobbies, online interests and face-to-face friendships.
Being self aware
Encourage them to check in with themselves to become more aware. Does hanging out on social media makes them feel connected and happy, or sad and excluded?
They can then choose either to maintain the feeling or do something to change it. Help them to set goals and screen out distractions.
Encourage face-to-face relationships
Face-to-face relationships increase our health and ability to connect with others.
Set limits on teens’ technology use, emphasise real-life interaction—and practice what you preach. By checking your own mobile phone all the time, you may be role-modelling the very behaviour you want teens to avoid.
Watch and intervene
If you’re lucky, your teen will bring any issues to you. Or you may notice your teen ‘cry out’ on the Internet, or see changes in their eating, sleeping, or social behaviour.
Respond to your teen with empathy or a hug while you check in with yourself to manage your own anxiety and beliefs. Use gentle prompts to allow your teen to express concerns and then explore ways to manage the situation together.
Want to know more?
Australian Government – staysmartonline.gov.au
Office of the eSafety Commissioner – esafety resources and advice
Learning Potential – Cyberbullying
The Raising Children Network – Teens entertainment and technology