In their children’s early years, parents often felt relief when their kids would be entertained by digital engagement since it meant chores, grocery shopping, and other things could get done. Yet, when it comes to teenagers, the endless absorption in digital life can be concerning.
There are plenty of horror stories of teens chatting with predators online, consuming sexually explicit content, and other things their parents would shield their teenagers from. Here at Help Your Teen Now, we have heard many of these stories from parents whose children are in crisis. A recurring theme is that their parents had little-to-no ideas about what their teens were getting up to online as the parents were not a part of their teens’ digital lives.
If you are concerned about what’s going on with your teen online, here are seven ways to help you monitor, engage with, and better help your teenager safely manage their digital life.
1. Connect With Your Teen Online
While your teen may not be thrilled with the idea of adding you to their social media feed, it is important for you to be included. While you don’t need to check up on your teen daily—though they may be daily posters—dropping by once a week can help you see what your teenager is up to online.
Now, it is completely possible for your teen to set up separate accounts where they post things they prefer you don’t see. As many teens use social media to communicate with friends and followers, it is understandable that they don’t want all their posts to be scrutinized by their parents.
It may be best to not demand a check for these private accounts unless your teen starts displaying more troubling behavior. It is just as likely that your teen will deactivate these accounts and create a new one if pressed. Instead, parents may want to focus on being less critical of their teens, especially if the posts are harmless. The more critical a parent is, the more likely their teenager will resort to creating secondary accounts.
2. Set Rules Regarding Privacy
Each household has to determine its privacy rules when it comes to their children’s online activities. However, when possible, it may be best to err on the side of allowing your teen as much privacy as possible, such as not requiring them to tell you account names and passwords, etc.
It is a tough balance, and often, parents have to approach each child differently. But, especially with older teens, they are likely only home for a few more years, and if you can, extending privacy and autonomy when possible can help your teen develop a healthy sense of independence.
3. Role Model Positive Digital Behavior
As you set out rules regarding your teen’s digital life, consider what example you are setting for your teen. Are you often on your smartphone or other forms of tech? It can be tough for your teen to listen to what you have to say about technology if you aren’t role modeling at least some of what you are telling them.
While parents don’t have to follow all the rules they lay out for their teens, it can help a lot when they role model responsible digital behavior. Things like engaging in non-technology-based hobbies, getting regular exercise, and actively putting away phones during family dinner and social times can make a huge impression on children.
4. Encourage Your Teen To Disable Push Notifications
A simple fix to help your teen from reaching for their phone every few minutes is to encourage your teen to disable some, if not most, of their apps’ push notifications. The constant buzzes, dings, and other alerts that apps put out to improve engagement can drag your teen into a constant frenzy of phone checking.
Both adults and teens struggle with FOMO—fear of missing out—and push notifications play on that anxiety. But does it really matter if that new Instagram post isn’t looked at immediately, or that Marco Polo waits for a few hours? In the long run, if the communication is important, friends and family can simply call, rather than relying on people being glued to every notification.
5. Consider Restricting At-Home Tech Use To Public Rooms
Let’s face it, teens don’t always have the foresight to consider where their actions can lead, and nowhere is that more apparent than their sometimes-reckless use of technology. Scandals and tragic stories surround teens who have engaged in sexting, online relationships, and other private digital activities. So, to help reduce your teen’s spur-of-the-moment sending of racy pictures to a partner, consider restricting tech use in your home to the public rooms.
Now, that doesn’t mean that if your teen really wants to get into mischief that they can’t find a way. But, by keeping computers, tablets, and phones in rooms where any family member can easily pass by, it is far less likely that your teen will indulge in risky online or offline activities.
6. Develop An Atmosphere Of Sharing
To help encourage your teen to share their online findings and activities, try and develop an atmosphere of sharing. It can be as simple as sending funny memes and gifs to each other to discussing more serious topics that pop on teen’s social media feed, such as recent headlines, civil rights posts, and other impactful media.
This kind of sharing takes time to build up but can be ultimately rewarding, as it is far more likely that your teen will be willing to talk to you about something they have seen or read online that is bothering them.
7. Set A Digital Curfew
Everyone needs space from their technology, especially when it comes time to get ready to go to sleep. Excessive screen time has been linked to poor sleep, and if there is any group that needs plenty of sleep, cranky teenagers are at the top of the list.
Setting a digital curfew can be good for the household, allowing everyone to unwind an hour or two before bed. Putting together a puzzle, talking about the day, reading books, and other restful activities are a great way to get ready to sleep and avoid the siren lure of digital engagement.
By implementing these steps, you can take a more active role in your teen’s digital life and help keep them on-track, rather than following the latest trend.