Oh, the struggles with technology and teenagers! So. Many. Issues! And yes, while we know there are several benefits to teens having their own phones, unfortunately, with its helpfulness comes a whole set of other stresses and worries- what is my child viewing online? Who are they talking with? Are they being bullied? Are they getting in unsafe situations? These worries and fears can sometimes cloud our ability to maintain a respectful, trusting, and connected relationship with our teens. This is such an important issue that I have decided to offer a parent workshop specifically addressing how best to limit device use. More information is below, but in the meantime, here are a few of my basic suggestions for managing your teen’s technology while also respecting and fostering a positive relationship.
1. Cell Phones as Rewards & Punishments- Be careful not to use a child’s cell phone as a reward or punishment for misbehavior. It completely makes sense to take it away for misuse or for getting behind in responsibilities because they are spending too much time on their phones. But if they forgot to feed the dog, or you didn’t like how they talked to you, or their room is messy, taking away their cell phone is not an effective strategy. Unfortunately, in the world today, children don’t get to walk the neighborhood to visit friends or wander the mall together. Their cell phones represent their social time, one of your teen’s most essential needs. So, taking it away for an unrelated reason builds up resentment, eventually breaking down your relationship.
2. Balancing Tech Time- Think back to when you were a teen- you may have spent hours on the phone, at the mall, or at your friends' houses. I know I also spent hours playing Nintendo (oh, the time I racked up on Sim City!) or sitting by the radio listening to music, waiting to hear my favorite songs to record on my cassette tape. Yes, it’s important your child completes their responsibilities first- homework and chores are the number one priority. However, after those things are done, it’s ok to let them have a few hours with their phones. This is their friend time, video game time, and music time combined- their phone is the tool that puts all those things together. They absolutely need time each day of the week to do something they enjoy that is just for them. All humans have a need for socialization and play, so giving your child permission to have their phones or video games during the weeknights after finishing work is a great way to let them know you value their needs.
3. Cell Phone Privacy- Going back to the point about how we spent hours talking on our phones when we were teens- do you remember the fear that our parents would pick up the other line at any moment and hear what we were saying? I remember being so thankful I had a mom who respected my privacy. She never went through my room or looked in my diary. And I never could have imagined her picking up the phone and listening to my conversations. Be careful that you aren’t doing the same thing by reviewing and monitoring your children’s text conversations. Not only does it disrespect their privacy, but the privacy of the friend they are texting. The more we cross this boundary with our teens, the more they learn not to trust us. And trust is the basis of creating a strong, loving relationship with our kids.
So yes, it’s important we have limits with technology, but we want those limits to respect our teens’ needs. If you worry about inappropriate content being shared or viewed online, have an authentic discussion with them. Let them know you want them to have more freedom now that they are older, but you also need to trust that it’s safe and healthy. It’s ok to loosen the reigns a bit when your kids are older. The tighter we hold, the more rebellion, resentment, or disconnection we will see from them.