It’s no secret to anyone that technology has infiltrated almost every aspect of our society. And perhaps no part of the population has embraced our ever-changing technology as much as tweens and teens. In fact, “embrace” might be the incorrect word as the youth among us seem to absorb technology – seemingly without even trying or being conscious of the process.
In my practice I see lots of families and kids, and one of the most popular topics of conversation (and conflict) is the role technology plays in kids’ and families’ lives. I’ve heard and seen it all: from parents who refuse to allow their kids to use cell phones or the internet – all the way to parents who place no boundaries, rules, or limits on the children’s use of technology whatsoever. But most families I see are somewhere in between, and are left wondering – how much is too much? And what, if anything, do I need to watch out for?
The following tips are by no means exhaustive, but might be a good place to start when determining rules for technology use in your family:
- Know your own rules, boundaries & etiquette. Is your Blackberry glued to your hand? Do you answer texts, emails, or phone calls anytime, anyplace? If so, don’t be surprised if your kids do it too – and end up ignoring the rest of the family in the process. The first place to start when setting rules for your kids, is to set them (and stick to them) yourself.
- Learn a thing or two. Part of being a parent today is having a working knowledge of MySpace, Facebook, and other social networking sites. Parents should also know the basics of texting and emailing (including how to send and open pictures). This is a safety issue. Your kids are using these tools, and it is essential that parents at least attempt to keep up with the rapidly changing technology.
- Technology is here to stay – deal with it. I work with lots of tweens and teens, and the reality is, if they don’t have at least some access to technology by the time they are in middle school, they run the risk of being left behind socially. Sleepovers, birthday parties, movie nights, and pick-up basketball games are planned via text and other electronic means – if your kids aren’t plugged in, they might be left out.
- Face to face relationships are still – and will always be – essential. All of the above is not to say that “real” relationships are not an important part of all of our lives. Loneliness can be a risk factor for depression, and virtual relationships just aren’t the same as the real thing. Accept the role of technology in your kids’ lives, but encourage them to spend time with their friends (and you!!) too.
- Be a Snoop. Privacy is great – but not when it compromises safety. Be aware and involved in your kids’ technology use. Keep family computers in a public place, talk with them about internet safety (including answering messages from people they don’t know, texting pictures of themselves, and sexting), and use technology to communicate with them once in a while (through texts, Facebook messages, etc) as a way to monitor their use.
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