“Put your brain on alert and your mouth on caution,” warns Chris Hogan.

This is exactly what we want our daughters to do when using technology.  As a tool, it can be powerful.  As a weapon, it can also be powerful.

Our goal is to guide our daughters in developing the skills to use technology and social media as tools in a healthy, balanced manner.

Games, social media, and other apps change constantly.  “Rules” for their use must be revised in response.

What is a parent to do?

Teach your teen/tween principles for handling technology.  After all, the rules change.  The principles stay the same.

Teach your teen/tween principles for handling technology. After all, the rules change. The principles stay the same. Click To Tweet

Please keep in mind that we should have a dialogue over time in regards to technology.  One discussion does not make an education complete!

This is Part One of Teens, Tweens, & Technology:  The Rules Change.  Principles stay the same.  Part One focuses on creating boundaries, balance, and other life skills.   Part Two enters the realm of emotions and critical thought.  These principles rely on developing social intelligence, empathy, and other character traits in our more mature adolescents.

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Principle:  Be the example.

In our home, it is people first, then technology.  This means that we give people our undivided attention.  Later, we can check social media or text people.  We practice setting aside our phones to be truly present.  Ultimately, we prioritize the people in front of us.

In our home, it is people first, then technology. Click To Tweet

Our Experience

As parents, we lead the way by giving our daughters our undivided attention when they request or require it.  We place our phones in the same place as we walk in the house.  And, we show our daughters how to use social media to encourage and celebrate with friends.

In fact, we have a family group on one platform where we share silly photos, jokes, and celebrate.  The Man and I demonstrate how to use social media to connect and bring light to the world!

I also learned to “think aloud” in order to model my internal dialogue and share my struggles with technology.  We are all human and sometimes slide down those slippery slopes.  As parents, we should model how we overcome the struggles and temptations of technology.

And, really, we try to model all of the principles that follow!

Principle: Maintain your integrity.

To be completely transparent, this is a personal family value. But, integrity makes many company values lists, too.  And, integrity is one of the most important qualities of great leaders.

People with integrity are fair, honest, and do the right thing no matter what.  They are not afraid of the truth, even when it is difficult to face.   Though integrity may be a challenge at times, life is less complicated and stressful when one has nothing to hide!

Our world needs vulnerable authenticity rather than fake “perfection.” Click To Tweet

How does this look for tweens, teens, and technology?  These are the discussions we have had over a period of time with our girls:

  • Be honest.  Wait until you are the appropriate age to use the social media app.  Tell the truth to yourself (are you competing for likes?), your friends, and your parents.
  • Do not misrepresent your life.  Our world needs vulnerable authenticity rather than fake “perfection.”
  • Avoid misleading people.  Be the same person on and off screen.
  • Do not self-promote.  Who or what are you really glorifying?
  • Avoid gossip and passive-aggressive behavior.  State what you mean clearly.
  • Be open.  More authenticity leads to greater trust and freedom.  Openness includes sharing passwords for the phone/computer/tablet, email, social media accounts, and Apple ID.
More authenticity leads to greater trust and freedom. Click To Tweet

Principle: Balance your life.

A healthy relationship with technology requires balance, just like anything in life!  Is your youth balancing physical activity, volunteer work, music, chores, creativity, problem-solving, sleep, and reading with technology use?

Our goal is for our daughters to be engaged with life and to focus on one thing at a time.

Balance activities.

Have your teen or tween list activities she likes to do.  Then, encourage her to balance these activities throughout the day or week.  For example, our daughters like:

  • biking
  • going to the beach
  • watching Netflix
  • reading
  • connecting with friends
  • one cooks
  • one creates
  • one runs
  • and one plays the violin.

After homework is finished, one daughter may watch a show on Netflix, run with a friend, read for 30 minutes, and cook. The other may watch a show on Netflix, go on a bike ride with a friend, read for 30 minutes, and play the violin.

Balance technology use.

Think about all the ways we use technology:

  • consuming entertainment
  • creating something meaningful
  • connecting with others
  • researching for school
  • and even reading books!

In the future, we may be using technology for even more activities.  Once again, balance is important!  However, it is important to keep in mind that they may not have the skills necessary to create balance.  We need to model, teach, and practice these skills.

Our Experience

I now share my internal dialogue aloud, “Whew,  I need to take a break from Facebook.  I just followed a rabbit hole and got sucked into reading articles that are not as important as my time.”

Then, the next time I am on Facebook, I might say, “I’m setting a timer to spend 15 minutes connecting with friends on Facebook. Then, I’m going to get off.  Please help keep me accountable to do something else.”  Our girls make great accountability partners when it means they get to hold their parents to something!

Just yesterday, our daughter watched a lot of Amazon TV.  Because balance is a subject we discuss, I asked what her plans were for the rest of the evening. She thought a moment, and then she set a timer for 6:00.  This was her reminder to take a break and do something different.

Principle: Guard your mind.  

The way we use technology can infect our minds.  I use the word “infect” because our adolescents’ brains can be literally restructured by their habits.  New, unhealthy dendrites can be formed while old, healthier dendrites are “pruned.”  Research is showing greater depression and suicide rates are possibly linked to technology use due to cyberbullying, comparisons, etc.

Parents, please give your tween or teen the skills and learning opportunities in which to practice guarding her mind.  In fact, the best time to begin teaching these skills is when your preteen is still at the developmental level where she listens to you and maybe even wants to please you.

Guard against inappropriate content

We want to protect and prevent our adolescents from encountering something inappropriate.  The truth is, it is likely to happen.  So, what do we do?

This depends on the trust levels you have with your adolescent.

If you have low trust levels, you may consider a monitoring device.  In my research, *Disney Circle is getting the best reviews.

Circle allows you to limit your adolescent’s time on various apps connected to the internet, including Netflix, social media apps, and YouTube.  It filters content and shows you the child’s online usage.  Plus, it will turn off the internet at a set hour (bedtime) and reconnect to the internet at a set time (morning or after school).

Circle is for devices connected to the WiFi in your home.  A subscription service for devices with cellular service is offered at an additional cost.

Please do your own research for limitations and prices.  Keep in mind that many teenagers are able to work around monitoring devices.  They are smart and savvy, if not always great decision makers!  Again, it is necessary to know your own child.

If you use one of these monitoring systems, consider your long-term plans to gradually release the reins.  What will you do to prepare and practice the strategies for independent self-regulation when your teenagers head off to college?

For those with high trust levels, we may not necessarily use monitoring devices.  Our daughters are usually open to instruction and open about sharing their lives and things that bother them.  So, we have high trust levels.

For all trust levels, we should teach our youth the skills they need to handle inappropriate content.

This will be especially important as we release those reins!  Consider these ideas and please share your ideas in the comments (scroll waaay down):

  • Be aware.  “Be as shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.” – Matthew 10:16.  As it is age appropriate, we should teach our preteens and teens the way the internet can spread darkness.  Help your youth be aware as to the type of sites, as well as the sensationalized pictures and headlines that lead to such sites.
  • Stop immediately.  Although awareness can avoid many inappropriate content sites, we cannot completely control what pops up in front of us.  But, we can control how much time we spend looking at it.  Navigate away immediately.  Block the website if you have that ability.  Consider educating your adolescent on how this content can affect their growing brains and futures.
  • Listen to your “gut.”  Block strangers who request contact.  Get an adult and/or take a picture of something that is said/shared if it makes you feel uncomfortable. Then, share the situation with a with a trustworthy person (parent, adult mentor/friend, even another mature teen.)

Monitor Media Content

Use the media and the culture to “build moral muscle” as Anthony Weber, lead pastor of Church of the Living God said to Dr. Meg Meeker in Parenting Great Kids podcast #34.

Parents, we don’t necessarily need to shy away from “spicy” content.  Consider watching TV and movies actively by talking back to the characters about the choices they are making.  Based on Anthony Weber’s suggestions, use these questions to help facilitate discussions (Warning:  Not everyone likes this.  Use your judgment!  And, please don’t do this all the time.):

  • Does the movie or series show the true consequences and challenges of a character’s choices?
  • Does the movie or series ultimately show the hope of redemption?
  • What do you like or dislike about certain characters?
  • What choices could the character make instead? (I notice that I use this question when the character gets drunk in a bar after a bad experience.)

Even music can be a great way to demonstrate how to take the meaning of the lyrics into account rather than listening passively.  Consider discussing how women are treated in lyrics and connect with the desensitization that occurs when we listen to it over and over.

Guard against negative attitudes.

Consider teaching your tween or teen the following concepts:

Cultivate contentment.

The praise of others is fickle.  To continually seek praise can lead to bondage, much like slavery.  Our children must find their value somewhere else!

Cultivate Contentment in your teen or tween with these tips:

  • Eliminate discontentment in our own lives.
  • Encourage our adolescents to be people observers.  What does it look like when someone acts shallow?  Would you rather be around a complainer or someone who is happy and striving to do better?
  • Teach your teen/tween to monitor his words.  Resist the temptation to blame or play the victim!
  • Teach your adolescent self-regulation skills.  Recognize what is causing discontentment. Find a place to renew.
  • Contribute to the world by making a positive difference in the lives of others.
  • Cultivate gratitude.
Avoid Comparisons.

“Comparison is a disease of the soul.” (Author unknown)

Most social media is a highlight reel and some pictures are possibly even fabricated.  We should not compare these highlights to our low points. We must capture negative thoughts and recognize the lies within them.

Guard against negative comments.

First, consider the source.  Then, perhaps avoid reading comments on divisive issues as they are often emotional.

When a friend leaves a negative comment, ask, “Is it true?  Why or why not?”  Maybe changes are needed.  If not, our teens and tweens are able to fight negative words with evidence of the truth about who they are.

Move on.  Consider blocking a “friend” who is consistently negative.

Our Experience

2 Timothy 1:7 states, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”  This Scripture helps us guard our minds.

We do not need to be fearful of the darkness on the internet.  We can spread love and encouragement through our connections with others.  We are not slaves to the negativity of others.  We have the power to recognize our own value.  And, we are given the self-discipline to battle inappropriate content and words, discontentment, and comparisons.

Inappropriate Content.

We find it helpful to take a social media scroll stroll together every now and then.  We sit side-by-side while our daughters hold the device.  They scroll through, and we are able to look at their feeds.

We may talk about who is an encourager, who takes great pictures, who shows maturity and sound judgment.  I try to focus on what we want to see more of:  whatever is true, noble, admirable, and so forth.  We try to avoid judging other people because we do not know the whole story.  Although, sometimes we need to discuss boundaries in relation to the “diet” that our girls are feeding their brains.

Contentment.

In the social media scroll stroll, we seek to improve our “stinkin’ thinkin’.”  We brainstorm how we could be happy for and supportive of friends rather than be jealous.  And, we practice our self-talk using a growth mindset.

Also, if social media breeds discontent in either of our daughters, they will take a break from it.  This is non-negotiable, but they know this ahead of time.  It is important for them to learn to set boundaries to protect themselves.  As parents, we help them recognize this pattern of thinking now so that when they are adults, they will be able to recognize it in themselves.  Our goal is for our girls to develop self-discipline in regards to social media.

Comparisons.

We also combat the pressure to be perfect with faith.  As Christ-followers, we recognize that Jesus was the only perfect person.  Yet, we all have value and worth.

It is helpful for us to talk about the types of pressures our daughters face on social media:  perfect poses, perfect hair, perfect make-up, perfect grades, perfect sports/music wins, and even perfect friends.  Yet, we have been given grace.  So, we will offer grace to others as well as ourselves. Plus, as encouraging people, we seek to build others up!

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Principle:  Create and maintain boundaries. 

Setting boundaries ties in closely with the “Guard your mind” principle.

Consider Creating a Contract

Some families write a cell phone/ tablet/ gaming contract as a way to set an external guard or boundary for their youth.  Writing out expectations and consequences leaves no room for doubt or unmet expectations.

Writing expectations and consequences leaves no room for doubt or unmet expectations. Click To Tweet

Again, you must know your own child to know if this is needed or if this would be a hindrance.  If you have high trust levels with your adolescent, you may not feel the need for a contract.  If you have medium or low trust levels, I pinned several contracts you could use as resources to my Teens and Tech: Contracts Pinterest Board.

Set Time Boundaries

Encourage your teen or tween to balance his or her use of technology.  This includes balancing device use with other activities.  It also includes balancing how technology is used.  (See also the Principle:  Balance your life.)

Consider turning off notifications during homework, and other focused activities, so that your youth is not distracted by the noises calling him to check his phone.  More will be accomplished in less time with fewer interruptions.

Your family may also determine a certain time, X:00, to turn off all devices. Certain monitoring devices have the ability to turn off the internet at a certain time and turn it back on if you need external assistance.

Boundaries of Place

Use technology in public places.

A bedroom with a closed door makes it easier to give in to temptation.  And at night, that temptation can lead to lack of sleep due to constant notifications and/or bright screens that trigger wakefulness.

Parents, please keep in mind that brain research shows that the home of impulse control and decision making in the brain may not be fully developed until the 20s.   This means that very few teens have the frontal lobe development to handle unlimited devices in their rooms.

Question your teen or tween’s justifications for *needing* devices in her room and seek solutions:  An alarm clock works as well as a phone. A radio or iPod works for listening to music while drifting off to sleep.

Make certain areas a “sometimes” place.

Although this will be different for different families, consider the dinner table or the car as a “sometimes” place.

For example, we generally talk in the car.  Ordinary chats and texts can wait until later.  However, on long car trips, we use technology more often to make the time go by faster.  And, if we are expecting to hear from a friend or family member, we let each other know.

Set Boundaries for Safety

Set privacy boundaries. 

Obviously, do not share personal information.  Parents, we need to teach which information they should NEVER share online, which information they can sometimes share, etc.

We need to be clear with our adolescents and not make assumptions that they already know this information.  You can begin by asking, “What are some things that you should never share online?”  After affirming their ideas, you can add your own.

Consider the “Friend.”

Does your teen or tween know this person?  Is this person a trustworthy, kind friend?  Does this person make wise choices?

Other safety considerations:
  • Post pictures when you return from a trip, not while on the trip.
  • “Listen” to your gut if something feels uncomfortable.  Block strangers who request contact.  Get an adult and/or take a picture of something that is said/shared if it makes you feel uncomfortable. Then, share it with a  with a trustworthy person (parent, adult mentor/friend, even another mature teen.)
  • Develop screen names that do not reveal too much information.  And, use strong passwords.  Parents, we may need to help our youth think these through.
  • Do not share passwords with friends.  Immature adolescents may play damaging “practical jokes” with this knowledge.  Practice how your teen can respond if a friend pushes for his or her password.
Admit your teen/tween’s personality style.

If your adolescent has an addictive personality, recognize this, create strategies to limit or break free, and even get professional help.

Our Experience

Before our girls entered the social media world, we read *Skink, No Surrender by Carl Hiassin together. (A word of warning:  Hiassin’s fiction books for youth often show teens acting “smarter” than adults.)

In this book, a teenage girl takes off with someone she meets online and finds herself in trouble.  Her teenage cousin and a crazy-like-a-fox, homeless, ex-Governor of Florida journey off to save her.  There are bad ideas and dangerous situations in Skink, No Surrender that appeal to teens.  But, the overarching idea is that it is unsafe to share contact information online and meet strangers in person, especially without telling anyone.  This book enables pre-teens to get the message without a parent preaching the message.

In order to use social media, our girls agreed to friend only people that they know.  For us, setting “friendship boundaries” has been a huge step in the maturational process.

During our social media scroll stroll, we discuss who is a good influence.  I ask if either of our daughters blocked anyone and why?  Recently, our 12-year-old blocked two boys who tried to add her because “they don’t make good choices.”  She also “hid” one girl’s story because “all she does is post pictures of herself posing.”  Our 15-year-old does not add teenagers on social media that she does not know well.  Above all, our girls are learning to set their own boundaries in order to protect themselves.

Final Thoughts

Just as soon as we learn a new piece of technology or social media platform, it seems that the rules change.  However,  principles of using technology stay the same.  With the use of principles, we can gradually release the “reins of control” as self-regulation skills are demonstrated.

The principles continue in “Teens, Tweens, and Technology Part Two:  The Rules Change.  Principles Stay the Same.”

For more in this technology series, please see:

75+ Powerful Technology Questions You MUST Discuss with Your Teen/Tween

Teens, Technology, and The Law:  What this Police Officer Wants You to Know

Parents, how do you teach your teens and preteens to use technology?  Thank you for sharing your wisdom in the comments below!

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