Trust, Teens and Technology

Trust, Teens and Tech by Jennifer Miller

Confident Parents, Confident Kids is delighted to publish a guest writer this week. Amy Williams is a journalist and former social worker, specializing in teen behavioral health. We live in a digital age and Amy believes that it’s time for parents and educators to let this truth impact the way we raise our children and Author_Amy Williamsteach our students. Having spent several years working one-on-one with teenagers, she has seen the impact that social media and the internet has had on their minds and emotions. Amy is passionate about this subject and works to inform and motivate others through her writing.

Trusting Teens with Technology
by Amy Williams

How can parents best create family rules without enticing teens to break them? According to the PEW Research Internet Project, it is estimated that 68% of parents claim to have incorporated rules about the types of internet sites their teens are allowed to visit. Most also have guidelines regarding what personal information gets shared online. Games are monitored as well with 67% of parents restricting what kinds of video games are or are not allowed to be played.

These numbers demonstrate that almost two-thirds of the parents surveyed believe that teens need structure and guidance when it comes to technology. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that teens will obey or follow these rules. A teen’s development naturally leads them to question their parents as they seek to find their identity. This pushes parents to an agonizing junction in their relationship with a teen. Technology can either hinder or enrich this process. One solution many guardians seek is to actively monitor their child’s technology use. This, in turn, raises the controversial and ethical topic of whether or not it’s okay to spy on a child.

Spying versus monitoring

Spying is often done behind closed doors and is secretive. This method banishes any sense of privacy and shoves a wedge between parents and teens, because it is based on a lack of trust. Family bonds might begin to crumble as teens struggle with developing anonymity. Rebellion and anger are often the result of spying- leading to a complete breakdown of communication.

Monitoring, however, refers to watching your children’s online activity without the covert aspect. Whether utilizing technology or just manually watching what they’re doing, this is not just a way of keeping track of your children, but oftentimes a necessity in light of the wide range of freedom offered by the internet. In almost all cases, it’s best to be up front with your teen about monitoring. Your oversight is a safety measure that allows teens to engage independently with technology. They are able to prove their responsibility and gain valuable experiences while maintaining privacy. It serves as merely a preventive technique for protection against predators and cyberbullies.

Monitoring provides lessons in communication for teens and offers parents a chance to connect with their children. The ideal way to monitor technology involves parents actively and openly communicating with their teens. This method requires a lot of dialogue, intentional interactions and proactive education.

What about privacy?

Unfortunately, the Internet is anything but private. Over the past few months, security breaches and hackers have taken away that illusion. It doesn’t matter what sites we visit, how strong our passwords are or if we create fake names- somewhere that information is stored eternally. People need to realize that online privacy is a myth and doesn’t really exist. Tell teens – there is no privacy.

Promoting trust

We know the job of a parent can be complex. Parents are often required to maneuver between caregiver, coach, disciplinarian and friend. But setting boundaries, maintaining a dialogue and offering independence can generate trust and a positive technology experiences for teens.

Listed below are some ideas to construct the ideal balance with technology and build a trusting relationship:

Be honest with your teen about the seriousness of online interactions. Teens are capable of understanding the consequences of their actions. Arm them with information about cyberbullies, sexting, predators and other concerns.

Tell them upfront you will be monitoring their activity, especially if you suspect a problem.

Together create guidelines for expectations and consequences of technology use. See CPCK’s Smart Home Media Use for a sample family media agreement.

Understand the person your child is becoming. Be involved. Know their friends, interests, concerns and activities. Make a special effort to listen without judgment to encourage your relationship.

Offer alternative activities and ways to communicate. Encourage social activities, family time and creative outlets.

Start young and teach social media etiquette. Children need to know what is and isn’t acceptable. How can they be safe online if they have never been taught?

Model appropriate technology use yourself. Parents are the first role models and teachers. Your children are watching you.

Ask questions about what they are doing online. Take an active interest and ask them about a new app or why they are giggling. Chances are it is only a silly Vine or YouTube video, but it will allow you a glimpse into their technology use.

“Friend” or follow your child on his favorite apps. This will allow you to text, message, or interact with each other online. As an added bonus, you will be able to see his or her other friends and interactions.

Allow them to be responsible for their devices. Use technology to teach life lessons. Your teen needs to handle his privilege with responsibility. If he cracks the screen, he should replace it. If he forgets to charge his laptop, it’s his job to tell teachers and accept the consequences.

And finally remember, everyone makes mistakes. There will be a slip up here and there.
Along the journey to adulthood, it is tempting to break a few rules now and then. A teen’s brain is still developing and the area that regulates sound judgment is the last lobe to mature. This opens children up for poor choices and hasty decisions, which can be documented forever with technology. It is a parent’s responsibility to guide children about handling technology appropriately while maintaining their trust.

For an outstanding read on the teenage brain, check out:
Siegal, D.J. (2013). Brainstorm; The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin Group.

For another article by Amy Williams, check out:

Digital Age Bullying and Prevention on Edutopia, The George Lucas Foundation’s Education site

Amy Williams lives in Los Angeles, California with her two teenage sons.

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