To help you figure out how worried you should actually be and what you can do about your daughter’s tech habits, we’re talking to danah boyd, author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.
1. How can parents identify a teen who has an unhealthy addiction to technology (vs. a teen who is simply “addicted” to socializing)?
There are two things that you want to look for – is a child insecure in their social relationships vs. is a child escaping to avoid something that’s going on in their lives? These require very different interventions. Heavy technology use is just one way in which these issues manifest, but in most cases, the roots have nothing to do with technology.
2. What are the options for parents who suspect their teens have an actual addiction to technology? What are the resources available to them? The strategies?
The key is to get to the root of the problem and address the problem rather than the symptoms. Heavy technology use is almost always a symptom. (Note: this is generally true with most substance addictions too which is why intervention programs focus on holistic approaches to recovery.)
3. What are the strategies parents should avoid when setting boundaries around or educating their teens on the subject of technology? What doesn’t work? What should parents never say?
The most important thing for parents to keep in mind is that their ability to negotiate these issues will be much more tractable if they have a healthy relationship with their children. As a result, I strongly recommend that parents focus on asking questions and increasing communication over starting with restrictions and surveillance. Parenting is hard and it’s a process of negotiation. What works in some households doesn’t work in others. But I’ve seen nothing positive come from approaches that are about increasing emotional distance between child and parent.
4. How should parents decide whether to monitor their teens’ media use? What questions should they be asking?
One of the best strategies that I’ve seen is when parents ask someone that their children sees as “cool” to keep an eye out for anything that might be worrying. This could be an older cousin or a cool aunt or even a coach. These people inevitably give a heads up when things are serious, but don’t get bent out of shape over every little thing.
As for unwanted direct monitoring, this often ends poorly because it erodes trust between parent and child. I recommend this as a last resort approach when there are serious concerns about physical or mental safety.
5. If parents decide to monitor their teens’ media use, is it possible to do so without teens feeling threatened? Can parents approach the topic without upsetting teens?
Unfortunately, I’ve never seen unwanted monitoring approached well and I’ve watched teens develop a whole host of strategies to achieve privacy in spite of what parents seek to do, eroding the efficacy of the monitoring.
6. In your opinion, what are the three best pieces of advice parents can give teens on the subject of media literacy?
The best thing that parents can do is to help their children learn how to think critically whenever they encounter information, whether online or in an interpersonal context. “Is this information accurate?” “Might there be a different way of interpreting what I’m seeing?” Etc. This starts by modeling this practice out loud when children are small and then inviting them to do so actively as they get bigger. This is the key to media literacy.
7. What are some tips parents should give their teens on healthy media habits such as limits on screen time and breaks?
One of the best approaches that I’ve found parents of teenagers to do is to create a family contract. In it, parents and kids both write out what really matters to them about their own use of technology. They also write down what they don’t like about the others’ use of technology. And then they negotiate and make an agreement. Often, what comes up is that teens complain that their parents check their phone during dinner (or are otherwise hypocritical about their tech use) and when this is managed and discussed, teens are much more willing to think about limitations on their own use that upsets their parents. And it sticks a lot better and doesn’t breed resentment.
8. You used the example of the father shooting his daughter’s laptop with a gun. Should parents ever be singling out their children or trying to embarrass them in the media?
No. This erodes the relationship and is an abuse of power.
9. Teens can be easily embarrassed. What do parents do on social media that embarrasses their children?
When I ask teens what about their parents embarrasses them, they say “everything.” When you drill down, what upsets them the most is when parents don’t seem to respect context. When teens are with their friends, they don’t want their parents to be hovering. They want a relationship with their parents that is separate from their relationship to their friends. Social media is tricky and one of the reasons that Facebook lost its luster is because teens didn’t want to hang out in the same place as their parents when their parents were hanging out with their friends. More practically, teens hate when parents talk about them publicly to their friends. As parents, we know that talking about our kids is part of our story, but to them, it’s their story and they don’t like us telling it in our terms.
10. You talk about the boundary between having access to teens’ media feeds and making the active decision to spy on them. Is there a similar boundary when it comes to parents interacting with their teens on social media and potentially embarrassing them? Should parents avoid commenting on teens’ posts? Friending their teens’ friends? Anything else? Any other thoughts on this subject?
Parents should always be aware of the power they have in situations. When your kid’s friends friend you, say yes. But don’t go around friending them; that makes you look creepy. When a teen invites you to comment, respond. But don’t jump in on a post that wasn’t intended for you. Be attentive to what your child is trying to get from their involvement online and be respectful of how they’re trying to set norms and don’t assert your norms in their space.
All that said, grandparents can get away with murder. <grin>