6 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make With Teens & Tech
One of the most fundamental changes in parenting teens in our times is the lightning speed with which new technologies are embraced into and throughout their world. We are still working on how to handle emerging digital technologies and the always expanding world of social media for ourselves, so we have little previous experience and no previous generations from which to draw our parenting wisdom. We have to figure it out for ourselves and our kids, and we need to do so NOW. Our kids are growing up in a whole new world I call “Technolescence,” and they need us to do our best to guide them through this complex time and space. With this in mind, here are six of the most common and significant mistakes I see many parents make in this realm of technolescence:
1. Saying “Yes” to all requests for tech devices and privileges. According to Matthew 7:11, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Yes, giving good gifts to our kids is really a reflection of our Heavenly Father’s love for us. But think about how many times you sincerely prayed for something you thought you or someone you loved really needed, and your Father’s loving answer was… “No.” Or maybe “Not Yet.” We need to take time to prayerfully consider and have parental discussions regarding new tech devices or privileges before saying “Yes.” Some new opportunities simply are not good for our teens and preteens, and other times they are either not ready or just need to learn the valuable lesson of waiting with patience. Kids who get everything they want as soon as they want it are often the least satisfied, most demanding, and generally disagreeable teens in the bunch.
2. Trusting kids too much in their technolescent world. Of course our teens want us to trust them, and in a healthy family this trust should continue to grow over time. Over time. I’m not saying we shouldn’t trust our kids at all. I am saying we should give them opportunities to earn our increasing trust, and this is a process that takes time and lots of growth experiences. And look, it isn’t just that our kids are still growing and developing their moral and social compasses and abilities, the nature of the technolescent world is very very much ACTIVE and not passive! The more they swim in digital waters, the more they are bombarded with complex choices, invitations, and temptations. Regardless of how naturally mature or good-hearted our teens seem to be, they need our guidance, training, and oversight to help them grow “in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and man.” This means we need to periodically check in for ourselves to see that they are conducting themselves with right standards in their digital world of technolescence.
3. Lurking or snooping to excess. While we should beware of trusting our teens too much in their technolescent journey, we must also use caution against trusting too little and letting our fears dominate our parenting decisions. I have seen huge family fallout and alienated, embittered teens when parents became so obsessed with what may go wrong that they couldn’t stop lurking and snooping in their kids’ digital space. To keep from falling into this trap, we must be clear and open about parental boundaries, practice a healthy sense of balance, and prayerfully trust the Holy Spirit to prompt us when something is not right.
4. Not staying current on emerging digital devices, social spaces, and available apps. Folks, the world of technolescence is changing rapidly, and is unlikely to slow down anytime soon. In fact, its rate of change seems to be exponential – changing faster and faster and faster. Worn out yet? The reality for us as parents of adolescents today is that we must be very diligent in staying reasonably up to date on the tech developments that are available and popular among teens in general, and particularly those that appeal to our kids and their friends. This means we need to pay attention to what they are into in the digital world, we need to ask non-threatening questions and really hear their answers, we need to do the same with their friends when we have the opportunities, and we need to regularly take time to explore online to find out what is new and big. One source you may find particularly helpful is the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding (CPYU). This is a Christian organization that does an exceptional job in helping parents understand what is happening in youth culture today. They have lots of very practical and useful resources, as well as informative and insightful articles. You really should check them out. Regularly.
5. Not having regular family discussions about the technolescent journey. I’m not saying you have to have rigid weekly summit meetings with your teens. You don’t want to drive them crazy. But if you are only discussing their digital choices and experiences once or twice a year, you aren’t discussing these issues nearly enough. A good guideline is to have some kind of direct conversation about what is happening in their digital world on about a monthly basis. Sometimes this may be more of a curiosity based conversation. Other times it may be a negotiation regarding digital freedoms. When needed, we need to offer correction and discipline in response to mistakes made. And we will do very well to incorporate spiritual guidance as foundational elements to all of our digital discussions and decisions.
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17 NIV)
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NIV)
6. Not updating digital rules and freedoms as kids grow. That sound is my soapbox being dragged to the front of the room. This is such a fundamental dynamic of parenting teens, and I will preach it over and over again. Respect, responsibility, and freedom go hand in hand. Our teens naturally crave more freedom as they grow up. We parents hopefully expect to see increasing personal responsibility in our growing adolescents. And parents and teens alike want to be respected by one another. We need to make clear through our words, our decisions, and our actions that our kids will regularly gain more freedom and opportunity in their lives as they reflect responsibility and respect in their lives at home, at school, at church, and in their digital space. And as we periodically show this respect to our teens by increasing their freedom, they are more likely to naturally show more respect and appreciation for us along the way. Keeping high school junior locked in the same rules and boundaries as they had back in sixth grade is a sure fire way to frustrate and embitter that growing teen. Our relationships and rules should grow along with them.
As always, let me know how I can help you and your family navigate the ever-changing world of technolescence, and ask your school and church leaders about bringing me to speak to your community sometime soon. Blessings of wisdom, strength, and peace to you and your family.