Managing a teen’s digital life: tips for parents

Image attribution: Garry Knight under Creative Commons License

Parenting in an age where children are using multiple devices in the home and social media has become so common among teens, can be difficult to navigate.

In this article, Luke Roberts shares tips on how parents of teens can strike the right balance between keeping them safe and nurturing their curiosity.

There are always going to be challenges that parents face raising teenagers. The growing challenge now is managing how young people interact with technology and the internet.

Just five years ago the advice would have been to make sure that the home computer was placed in a room where you could monitor what your child was doing.

But in the era of smart phones, tablets, iPads and laptops parents need new strategies to help manage teenage behaviour. Unlike younger children, parents face a tougher balancing act when it comes to giving them the freedom to explore and connect but also making sure they stay safe online.

Managing teens screen time on multiple devices

The first issue is that devices have got smaller, more personal, more mobile and more connected than ever before.  With most children getting their phone around 11, the home PC is no longer the primary way that teens connect with the internet.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has also meant that gaming consoles and smart devices such as watches can be connected to online communities and social media.

With so many ways to connect to the internet, it is important that parents help teenagers to have down time away from the device. The best way to do this is to role model it yourself! In the real world it’s very easy to monitor your front door, in the digital world devices can act like doors so it is important to know how these can be accessed.

Understanding the impact of social media on teens

The second issue is the growing concern that teenagers are living more of their lives through social media rather than face to face. For example, issues that were once only problems in school or on the way home from school, are now being played out to a digital audience on social media.

The effect of this means that embarrassing moments or rumours now travel faster through a teenager’s community. Their peers get updates constantly about what happened mixed with variety of opinions.

Most young people would feel that they are capable of dealing with their peer relationships whether it’s asking someone to stop doing something that make them feel uncomfortable or something that is clearly inappropriate.

One of the most difficult things for teenagers to address is the embarrassment factor, when someone posts about something that is personal to them.

This feeling of vulnerability mixed with the fact that your whole community knows what is going on can be very upsetting. This is where parents can play an important role in helping teens to manage feelings of embarrassment and awkwardness.

Reputation management and dealing with cyberbullying

Teenagers by their very nature don’t focus on the long-term effects of what they share online and may need some mentoring when it comes to oversharing.

Helping them to understanding that information posted online can be damaging to their reputation and digital life as they grow up is important.

Cyberbullying is another issue that is growing among young people online.  Parents can play a vital role in helping their children learn how to deal with it, if it happens to them or stopping it happening, if they are the source of the online abuse.

Tackling the issue in a calm manner is essential as emotions can run high in these circumstances. Reporting, documenting incidents of cyberbullying and not responding to abuse are just a few things that can be done to deal with the issue.

Having a conversation about their digital lives

Above all, the most important thing that parents and carers living with teenagers can do to keep them safe in online is to have regular conversations about their digital life. Understanding how they are using the internet and how they’d like to be supported can help parents to be better prepared to help them deal with e-safety issues they may face.

Establishing a family agreement on how the whole family uses the internet can also be a first step to helping teens how to best use the internet to enrich their lives online.

More to explore

See more articles and resources to help children stay safe online.

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