Article

Pamela Consuegra

is associate director of family ministries for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists.

Parenting Teens in a Digital World

Many parents feel as if their attempts to control the use of media are futile.

Parents in today’s technological age are dealing with issues that their parents never had to face. Social media is a cultural change that did not enter our world until the end of the last century—and it’s not a passing fad. Instead, it’s become the fabric of our American culture.

Aswithmanythings, technologyhasprovedtobebothablessingandacurse. We’vewitnessed ruling parties of nationsoverturned, inpart, because oftheinfluencesocialmediahaduponitscitizens.Ifit canimpactanation,itsurely hasan impactupon ourindividualfamilies.

A recent study conducted by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture1 revealed some startling information. Parents shared a view indicating that the family is in decline. This decline was attributed, to a large degree, to social media. Parents expressed a sense of danger to their child that was linked directly to the use of technology. Here are some of the findings the study revealed:

  • Eighty-four percentofteenagerscarryacellphone.
  • Ninety-three percentofteenagersareconnectedtotheirpeersviacellphoneoronline socialnetworking.
  • Sevenoutof10teenagersaretextingatleastonceaday,and64 percentaretextingmultipletimes daily.
  • FouroutoffiveteenagershaveaTwitter,Facebook,orothersocialnetworkingaccountwith which theyfollowandfriend”peoplewhomtheirparentsdon’tknow.
  • Two thirdsofteenagersconnecttotheironlinesocialnetworksatleastseveraltimesa week.
  • Sixty-two percentofallparentsofteenagerssaytheir childrenareconstantlyconnected electronicallywiththeirfriends.”

Anotherstudyindicatesthatthesituationisactuallyworsethanparentsreport. It showsadisconnectbetweenparents’perceptions andreality. “TheOnlineGenerationGap:ContrastingAttitudesandBehaviorsofParentsandTeens,” conductedby HartResearchAssociatesfortheFamilyOnlineSafetyInstitute(FOSI),2 foundageneration gap”betweenwhatparentsthinktheyknowabouttheirkids’onlinebehaviorandwhattheteenssaythey actually do know.  In short, thisstudyrevealedthatparents thinkthey have a better handle on their kids’ onlinebehaviorthantheyactuallydo.Thismeansthattheproblem maybeworsethanparentsthinkitis. Infact,71 percentofteenssaytheyhidetheironlineactivityfromtheirparents.3

Our children’s lives are infused with contacts, conversations, and information that many parents feel are out of their control. Parents readily admit that their child sees things in media that they should not be seeing. Parents have a sense that they should, in fact, be doing more; however, they’re uncertain as to how to get a handle on social media and the digital world that has invaded their child’s life. Many parents feel as if their attempts to control the use of media are futile.

Ifparentstrytoenveloptheirchildinasafetynetagainsttheinfluencesofsocialmedia,theyare leftwithnowherefortheirchildtogo. Afterall,socialmediaisall aroundus.Theresnoescapingit. Soshouldparentsjustadmitdefeat? Dowethrow up ourhands andgiveup?

Akeyroleofparentingisteachingourchildrentobecomeresponsibleadults. Thisisnotamatterof control; it’samatteroflivinguptoourGod-givenresponsibilityasparents.In so doing,wellhelptoensuretheirsafetyamidsocialmediafrenzy.

Herearesomethoughtsto consider:

Install parental control software.

Teensshouldnever haveaccountsthatdon’tallowparentscomplete access. Nothingshouldbesecretto youregardingyour children’s onlineactivities. Software is availablethatcan be installed onallhousehold computersthatallowsyoutoretrieveareportofyourchild’sonlineactivity,including gamingand pornography.You maywanttoconsiderNetNanny,atop-ratedparentalcontrol software, whichsellsataveryaffordableprice.

Set boundaries and monitor use of technology.

Limityourchild’stimeonthecomputer,andbesurethecomputerislocatedinthemainpartofthehouse. Allowingyourchildrentohavecomputersintheirroomsmaylimityourabilitytomonitortheir activityandscreenhabits. Thismaynotbe apopularmove,butthatis OK.Remember,youhavea responsibilityasaparenttoprotectyourchildren,as wellastoteachthemresponsibilityandtimemanagement.

Spendtimeconsideringwhatyouvalueasafamily.Somefamilieshavedecidedtobanthe televisionfromtheirhomescompletely,findingthemeritsoftelevisiontobeminimal.Other familieshavechosentocontroltelevisionusageandprogramming,againreflectingfamily values.Internetaccesscan also begaineddirectlyfromyour television,sosettingboundariesandmonitoringits useisvital for this purpose as well.

Manyteenagerscan’tseemtoput down theircellphone.Theywalkwithit,eatwithit,andlieinbedatnighttalkingonit. Attimestheyseemmoreinterested intalkingortextingontheirphonesthanin interacting withfamilyandfriendsinperson.Textinghasgottenoutofcontrolateveryage, and it seemsasiffamiliescannolongerenjoyamealtogetherwithouttextingortalking onthephone.Establishgroundrulesforyourfamily—adults included—sothat timetotalk,share,andlistenareanormalpartofyourfamily’sinteractions.Setup “no-texting”timesandzones,andbefirmonthismatter.Manyhave establishedrulesaboutputting cellphonesawaywhentheycomeintothehomeatnight; others havelimitedtheamountoftime spentonthem.Otherwise, if we don’t take such measures,technologywillcontrolourfamiliesinsteadofourcontrollingit.

Review all social media accounts.

IfyouasaparentchosetoallowyourteenagerstohaveaFacebook,Twitter,orothersocial mediaaccount,sitdownwithyourteensatunannouncedtimes onaregularbasis andreviewentriesontheiraccounts.Thiswillhelpyou to becomefamiliarwithsites on which yourteensarespendingtheirtimeand with whomtheyrecommunicating.Youlllearnalotwhenyouseephotos,readstories,and askquestions.Manyparentswouldbeshockediftheyknewwhattheirteensknew,saw,wrote, andreadfromtheirfriends.

Supervise access to social media at friends’ homes.

Manyparentssaythateveniftheycontrolsocialmediaintheirownhomes,theirchildrenare exposedtoitatthehomesoftheirfriends. Perhapsthisistheeasiestissueofalltosolve: don’t allowyourchildtostayovernightorvisitthatfriend’shomeunlessyouare along.This isnotharsh;remember,youretheparent.

Model responsible behavior.

Perhapsthemostimportantelement ofparentinginthisdigital worldisbeingapositiverolemodelinthewaythatyou yourself usetechnology. Manyteensaresimply mimicking what hasbeenmodeledbytheirparents.Toomanyparentsoperatetheir livesby the premise“DoasIsay;notasIdo.”Thisisnowaytoeffectivelyteachyourchildrenappropriate waystoutilizesocialmedia.

Parents must model moderation in their own use of the television, computer, and cell phone. Model the observance of laws, including laws about the use of cell phones while driving. When your teens get their driver’s license, they will imitate the model that you have set. If you don’t want your child doing it, writing it, or watching it, then neither should you. We are counseled, “The words and acts of the parents are the most potent of educating influences, for they will surely be reflected in the character and conduct of the children.”4

Manyoftheargumentsastohowtohandlesocialmediaplacetoomuchresponsibility onthe childfortheirownwell-being,andthisissimplyunfairandunhealthy. Childrenneedtogrowup withparentsdoingtheirjobsotheydon’thavetogrowuptooquickly. A cleardistinctionmust be madeastowhotheparentisandwhothechildis. Whatistheroleofeach? In essence,thequestionformanyfamiliesis:Whoisincharge?

Technology hasthepotentialtobeavaluable contributiontoourchildren’slivesifparentsallowittobeatoolinstead ofasubstituteforreal relationships.Parentsmustsetboundaries,createbalance,andteach responsibility.Bybeingintentionalinourever-changingdigitalworld,parentsmaygreatlyreducethe likelihoodofhavingregrets.Afterall,everyparentwantstoknowtheyhavedonealltheycandoto raise healthy,well-adjustedchildren—notjustforlifehere,butmoreimportant,foreternity.

WehaveaGod-given responsibilitytointroduceourchildrentoJesus.Thereisnoworkmorecrucial. Everythingour childrenareexposedtoshouldbringthemclosertotheirSavior.Perhapsweshould letScripture beourfilteraswenavigatethroughourdigitalworld:

Finally,brethren,whateverthingsaretrue, whateverthingsarenoble,whateverthingsarejust,whateverthingsarepure,whateverthings arelovely,whateverthings are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8, NKJV).

  1. Carl D. Bowman et al., Culture of American Families: Executive Report (Charlottesville, Va.: Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, 2012), p. 8.
  2.  Family Online Safety Institute, “TheOnlineGenerationGap:ContrastingAttitudesandBehaviorsofParents andTeens” (Hart Research Associates, 2012).
  3. Erik Sass, TeensRunningCirclesAroundParentsonSocialMedia,”www.mediapost.com/publications/article/177499/teens-running-circles-around-parents-on-social-med.html#axzz2b7ubQBJa.
  4. Ellen G. White,Education,” HealthReformer,May1, 1889.
  5. Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. 
We reserve the right to approve and disapprove comments accordingly and will not be able to respond to inquiries regarding that. Please keep all comments respectful and courteous to authors and fellow readers.
comments powered by Disqus