Technology is ever-evolving and our teens/tweens are ever-changing. Rather than constantly updating rules, our family learned the power of teaching our teen and tween principles for using technology and social media. After all, the rules change. Principles stay the same.
This is Part Two of Teens, Tweens, & Technology: The Rules Change. Principles stay the same. Part One focuses on creating boundaries, balance, and other life skills. It lays the foundation. 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.
Parents, please keep in mind that we should have a continuing dialogue about technology. One discussion does not make an education complete!
Principle: Develop deep connection.
Remind your adolescents not to miss out on “real life” because they are watching the “highlight reel life!”Remind your adolescents not to miss out on “real life” because they are watching the “highlight reel life!” Click To Tweet
The truth is, sometimes our mistakes/awkwardness in real life lead to shared inside jokes. By simply being present, these moments become funny stories that we remember and retell throughout the years. And, they become a point of connection.
Additionally, strong relationships can even provide physical and mental health benefits. This includes easing stress and providing support.
Plus, real-life connections are necessary for learning to:
- read nonverbal cues
- resolve conflict
- communicate with others face-to-face and advocate for oneself
- provide social support to others, including appropriate physical touch (which releases oxytocin)
- participate in teamwork
- build social confidence and competence
- make time and appreciate others
- develop empathy
Be aware that social media may simply become a “social transaction.”
Parents, is “social transaction” a new concept to you, as it was to me? This means one person befriends another because there is some type of perceived benefit.
Social transactions can backfire in a shallow relationship! Teens and tweens end up blocking, unfriending, and unfollowing others to avoid conflict or ignore problems. Worst of all, friendships become disposable.
Instead, our adolescents should seek to connect with true, trustworthy friends. These are loyal friends who stick with each other through difficult times. And, these are friends who are worth the trouble of seeking a resolution to a conflict.
Give people the benefit of the doubt.
In general, teen/tween brains are wired to react quickly in the present moment. Quick responses can lead to wrong judgments because we cannot “read” tone of voice or nonverbal cues on social media.
Parents, consider how you can teach your youth to guard against overanalyzing messages and responding impulsively. Discuss what it means to “assume positive intent” in a friend.
Additionally, adolescents can struggle with waiting for a reply. Impatience can lead to a negative thinking spiral. They don’t know always know what is going on in the other person’s life.
For better insight, perhaps ask your teen or tween:
- Is your friend involved in after-school activities?
- Is your friend at a family event?
- Is this your friend’s messaging/ texting style?
- How does your friend normally respond?
Recognizing times that do not allow for phone use, as well as personality quirks, can help your adolescent give friends the “benefit of the doubt” and respond appropriately.
Use technology and social media to foster a deeper relationship with others.
A couple qualifications: 1. The following ideas should not be a substitute for face-to-face connections. They should enhance real-life relationships. 2. Our teens/tweens must continue to guard their minds and be thoughtful of others. That being said, technology and social media can be used to:
- Keep up with and learn about major events in the lives of friends far away
- Celebrate birthdays
- Encourage each other in competitions or recitals
- Build each other up when dressing up for Homecoming, Prom, etc.
- Receive support by being vulnerable and authentic
- Collaborate and share interests
- Inspire and motivate each other
- Remember and relive memories with others
- Enhance creativity and provide learning opportunities alongside others (photography skills, cooking, decorating, programming, etc.)
Even teaching older adults how to use technology can lead to surprising new friendships!
“Light” connections while waiting in line can also be valuable.
While waiting to be seated at a restaurant, an older couple struck up a conversation with our family because we were conversing with each other. This couple appeared different from us on the outside, but we connected over our similarities.
Another time, a conversation in line led to an older lady treating us to drinks! She was delighted to talk because she had granddaughters about our girls’ ages.
In our family, the dinner table is for talking and connecting.
Often, we begin by asking, “What was your favorite part of the day?” or “What made you happy today?” Although we do not use technology for distraction, we also do not make the table a “no electronics zone.” Why? Sometimes we pull out a phone to do research together: activities, vacation plans, movies, etc. Other times, we connect with a “dinner theater” movie. We are flexible about technology use, but the main point is a deep relationship.
Principle: Do the research.
Parents, please understand the developmental stages of adolescents. When is your child able and willing to learn from you? Is your child open and honest with you? It is important to teach these principles before he seeks independence and pushes you away.
Galit Breen has an article which explains the connection between development and parental influence, “What is the Right Age to Get My Child a Phone?” It applies to the use of technology and social media in general!
A word of warning: don’t get involved in something you don’t understand. Know the positives and negatives of various pieces of technology, games, social media, etc. Perhaps learn one app at a time. This will also give your tween or teen a chance to demonstrate responsible use of the app!
There is a very popular social media app that we said “no” to for many reasons: safety concerns, maturity, and lack of knowledge. Needless to say, our motivated daughter did the research and presented us with evidence of her maturity.
Since she was so motivated, she willingly listened to our safety concerns. Then, she explained how she would avoid inappropriate content and conversations. At first, The Man got on this platform with her. So much hilarity ensued that I joined. Finally, with more discussions of the “principles,” our other daughter joined us.
We only knew about the negatives in regards to this app. But, we now have a family “group” that draws us closer because we are being playful. When we hear the notification noise followed by laughter, we know to jump on to see what is going on! A side benefit: the platform even allows us to communicate not-so-fun messages in a funny way.
If our daughter had not done the research, we probably never would have allowed this app. If The Man did not get on it with her, we probably never would have this new connection point. And, this platform has afforded some great conversation about the principles of boundaries and guarding our minds by blocking and muting people.
Principle: Recognize fake news, bias, and marketing.
As adults, we know that we can’t believe all the news we read on social media. Anyone can publish anything on the web.
If the person sounds confident, then it sounds true. If the person appeals to our emotions, it seems true. Even quoting research makes a claim appear legitimate.
However, sources should be cited so that they can be checked and confirmed. And, several points of view should be considered. Parents, we must not assume that our adolescents know how to use critical thinking skills.
What do our teens and tweens need to know?
Show your adolescent examples of fake news and discuss how to spot it. If in doubt, check snopes.com out! Even google mainstream news to determine the integrity of the writer.
Questions to ask to determine if the site gets “paid for clicks” or is otherwise “fake news?”
- Are there multiple typos, grammatical errors, and broken English?
- Who is the author? Why was the article written? Is the author trying to make money?
- Are the pictures and titles sensationalized to draw you in?
- Are there opinions disguised as facts?
- Does everyone experience similar results?
- Is it satirical? (See the onion.com or babylonbee.com for examples)
How do we tell if the post is an ad presented as “news?” The article may actually say “sponsored content” or “this is a paid review.” If the post announces it, why is this a problem? Receiving payment for an “opinion” makes us doubt the credibility of the person/writer. This is a clear indication of bias.
As much as writers may try, it is very difficult to remove all bias in an article. It is our responsibility to help our adolescents recognize bias.
One way to get a clearer picture is to read a variety of articles on a topic to get different points of view.
Again, we should question the source. For example, Wikipedia is not a trusted resource as bias can cause important information to be left out. And, the writer may only report sources that support his/her viewpoint. This is quite normal for humans. It is hard to open our minds to understand something that goes against our beliefs.
Sometimes the bias is evident as in the case of emotional, divisive posts. Please keep in mind that the human mind will suppress what it does not want to hear. We teach our girls not to engage in opinionated rants! In fact, we would prefer if they did not even read them.
Remember, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” (Among other authors and poets, Dale Carnegie is credited for this quote in the book How to Win Friends and Influence People.) It is very difficult to overcome bias! So, let’s teach our teens and tweens to read posts and articles thoughtfully!
Marketing strategies apply techniques that lure in our adolescents. In order to stand strong against these techniques, let’s teach our teens and tweens to recognize marketing tactics!
In fact, marketing to teenagers is such a big deal that when I googled, “What do teenagers need to know about marketing?” all the posts on the first two pages, except one, were about how to market to teens. That one post was about how to learn from teenagers. Companies pay big bucks for research on marketing to teens so that they can gain a customer for many, many years.
Help your teen/tween recognize how these strategies:
- Often appeal to the emotions, such as fear of missing out.
- May use “limited time offers,” including bonuses, in order to make your adolescent feel the need to act immediately.
- Manipulate product reviews to influence your thinking.
- Use “false intimacy” to engage us.
- Promise “rewards,” but may require paying a fee.
- Use testimonials with fine print saying the person is an actor or results are not typical.
- Use product placement to build familiarity, and thus trust in a company.
It is the “squeaky wheel that gets the attention.” The loud, controversial ideas present in fake news and biased reports stir up emotions. This can be confusing for our teens and tweens.
We want our daughters to recognize that these “squeaky wheels” may actually be a vocal minority. So, we will sometimes share research and statistics that show the truth. And, we teach our daughters to filter what they see through the lens of the Bible. You may wish for your adolescents to filter what they see through your family values.
Finally, if we find an article that is particularly misleading, we take a quick teaching moment to point out the issues. We also appeal to our girls’ “intelligence” so that they won’t be misled. (Is this a bad strategy?!). Once again, we encourage them to be “as wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”
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Principle: Filter images and posts through the lens of wisdom and kindness.
“Put your mind on alert and your mouth on caution,” warns Chris Hogan.
Despite privacy settings, anything posted online has the possibility to remain forever. Ask your teen or tween: Would your grandparents, “grand-friends,” teachers (or other role models) be mortified? If so, they should not post the picture, write the words, or share/like another person’s post! This principle ties in with the integrity principle, especially with the temptation of disappearing pictures on some social media platforms.
Our youth will appreciate this wisdom when they are older and have minimal regrets. The news contains stories of teens who lost scholarships and admission to colleges due to social media content. Lawyers use social media content in arguments in court cases. Typically, it does not turn out well for the teen!
Additionally, encourage your adolescents to put themselves in other people’s shoes. Empathy improves relationships! Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings, thoughts, wants, and needs of another person.
- If they post pictures of parties, how would someone feel if he or she was not invited to that party?
- How would they feel if someone posted a not-so-flattering picture of them without permission?
- How would they want someone to respond to one of their messages?
I was blown away by the ability of one our daughters to see from another child’s point of view. She recently shared that she did not post a picture of what she and one friend were doing because she was concerned that a third friend would feel left out. She is empathetic in real life and on social media!
Also, we have a general rule for clothes which also applies to pictures: Not too high, not too low, not too tight, and not too loose.
Principle: Be the Light. Use technology for “Good.”
Every app, game, and social media outlet has the potential for “Good.” What problems can our adolescents solve with technology? Remember, technology is a tool. Ideally, our teens and tweens should choose and use it wisely.
How can our youth use technology to build others up? They can be kind, encouraging, and inspiring. Sometimes a kind comment can make a world of difference in an adolescent’s life. Also powerful is an attempt to include another teen so that no one feels left out.
Encourage your adolescent to uplift others and celebrate with them. G.K. Chesterton says, “It is easy to be heavy, and hard to be light.” It is much easier to be negative on social media than to be positive. In fact, I tell our girls that it takes more intelligence to look for the good in something than it does to put down others or complain.
I try to model using social media to share whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. This may include sharing helpful articles, including inspirational quotes, or celebrating the good in the world.
Our youngest daughter has a Cricut® cutting machine for making monograms. More and more of her friends are getting them. So, she used an online resource to record her screen as she talked through how to use it. (Her face was not onscreen). She is using this recording as a tool to help her friends get started!
Our oldest daughter uses social media to connect with and encourage friends in a city where we lived previously. She also shares pictures from our mission trips as a way to celebrate and demonstrate loving God and loving others, even when they are different from us. She has discovered that we often have more in common than not and shares this understanding with others.
Principle: Bring the darkness to light.
Every app, game, and social media outlet has the potential for “Darkness.” I predict that this will never change even as new technologies are created!
I debated whether to even include this, but social media can perpetuate darkness. This may be in the form of dark images, secrets, cyberbullying, sexualized discussions, porn, etc. So much darkness is easy to hide and it breaks down relationships.
We are already seeing young girls promoting themselves through sexualized images and language, spreading hateful words, reacting in a jealous manner, and even outright lying. According to our family values, this is darkness. And, it leads to discussions about guarding our minds, praying for others, and spreading kindness.
If an addiction or other issue is hidden, we want our girls to be brave enough to bring it to light. We want them to experience the freedom that comes when they seek help for themselves or others! And, we want to offer love and support to walk through the difficulties.
For more information, you may wish to peruse these other resources. Please keep in mind that social media and the internet are constantly evolving.
Brave Parenting has a thorough section on technology, parental controls, how to set limits, etc. They come from the point of view of strict limits and monitoring.
Galit Breen at These Little Waves also has many articles, checklists, a TEDx Talk, a free course, and a paid course on her website. She comes from the point of view of teaching self-monitoring skills to your adolescent. Her lists are helpful, but the emails that follow are sales-y. Since we have high trust levels with our girls, I have not used her course. If trust levels change, we will try it out. If you decide to try the course, I’d love to hear a review!
Also, I have a Teens and Tech Pinterest Board that you are welcome to follow. I will continue to add helpful content to it.
For more information on Teens, Tweens, and Technology, please see the following posts in this series:
Parents, what principles for technology use do you teach your teen or tween? What helpful resources have you found?
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