Understanding Your Teen’s Online World

Katie Crites' Street Photography

Understanding Your Teen’s Online World

Like it or not, this is the world your kids are living in. You have to learn to live in it too.

Unlike my parents, I have always had indoor plumbing.  I am guessing when they first started putting toilets in homes that more than one person protested.  “In the house? Why would you want that in the house?” However, I never once heard my parents say, “Life was sure a lot better when we had to go outside in the middle of the night.”

When I hear complaints about advancing technology, I think it is a lot like indoor plumbing.  It may be questioned at first, but no one is going back to the outhouse.

It has been proposed that our next evolutionary transformation will combine humans with technology. Ideally, this combination of human and technology will culturally, physically, and psychologically enhance man’s existence. As an academic who taught Technology Ethics for over a decade, I enjoy pondering the idea of a future where we become techno-humans.

As a mother, my academic intrigue went out the window when I realized my teenage children appeared to be living a good portion of their lives on Instagram. I do not want to shelter my children from what I see as the inevitable evolutionary progress of man, but I also do not want them to be dumb about it.  The following will present ways we can help our children in this evolutionary process by acknowledging their personal world, teaching them to appreciate knowledge, and finally giving a bit of interpersonal advice.

1. Understand Their Online World is Real

Our children’s online world sometimes feels similar to an imaginary friend. You cannot see it or touch it, but it talks to your child and not to you. Most healthy adults consider their own online space to have little to do with their daily, face-to-face existence.  After all, we all went out with friends, attended various events, and conquered life’s milestones way before there were corresponding selfies required.

Our childhood may be represented by a shoebox of random photos and a couple yearbooks, but our children’s lives are being meticulously documented on a daily basis. Where they go, what they do, whom they meet, and all their accomplishments are recorded for posterity … and advertisers. Unlike us, our children’s online and face-to-face interactions combine seamlessly to represent their reality. Help your child by acknowledging their online relationship concerns because their reality is worthy of your attention.

2. Educate Your Child On The Power of Knowledge

I remember a time when I was comfortable with not knowing, but technology has made me compulsive. If there is an unknown, I must find the answer. “I wonder how my high school team is doing?”, “When does the new season of House of Cards begin?”, “Is it affect or effect?”

As unnecessary as the knowledge may be in the moment, I still need to know now. Our children look at things differently. “The information is always available so why stress?” As parents, we must convince our children that it is not just the availability of knowledge that matters, but it is the ability to absorb and organize information that will lead to the innovations, inventions, and personal insights that cannot be found on Wikipedia.

3. Teach Your Kids to Breathe and Give it a Day

The decision-making area of the brain does not fully develop until a person reaches their twenties. This lengthy developmental process could be why many teenagers appear to act before they think. I recommend breathing techniques often to my clients when they struggle with anxiety and lack of focus.

One tool we can teach our children is to take a deep breath before hitting send. Okay, this is actually a great tool for all of us. On more than one occasion I have yearned to get a text back moments after I hurled into cyber-space. If an email, text, tweet, or post is of a serious or sensitive nature, it is good practice to not only take a deep breath, but to also sleep on it.  If in the morning you still feel strongly, give it a hurl.

Even though I have integrated an incredible amount of technology into my life, I still distinguish between “real relationships” and “online relationships”.  I can’t help it.  As parents we have to remind ourselves that teenagers do not know a world without the Internet.

If the Internet has always been available, then distinguishing types of relationships with regard to technology makes little sense.  Take heart, you are still the parent and have much to offer. Help your children navigate all their relationships, both online and face-to-face, using your love for them and your many years of experience.

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