Equipping Your Teen for Dating: 4. Digital Communication
As we move to the issue of guiding our teens through healthy management of their smart phones and other digital devices, we are now facing BY FAR the biggest change to dating dynamics since we were kids. When I was a teen, if I wanted to communicate with a girlfriend, a buddy, or anyone else not in the same room with me, I had one option: talk to them out loud in the kitchen in plan view and earshot of everyone in the house via a telephone connected by a cord to the wall. Mercy gracious…how times have changed!!!
Believe it or not, a common struggle/complaint I hear from teens in my counseling practice is feeling too much pressure in dating relationships because they are always digitally available to each other. Granted, they don’t always articulate it that way to me, but it does come up quite a bit as a very real issue for them. In addition, hopefully we all recognize the potential for sexting and other general mischief via such a powerful visual-digital-communication tool in the constant clutches of our teens. Certainly, having their own phones can be an enjoyable asset for them. But they need our oversight and guidance in using them properly – especially when they are in a dating relationship. Here are some rules and guidelines I encourage you to implement with your kids:
- Don’t use your phone (or other digital device) to share things you couldn’t or shouldn’t share in person. Ugly comments. Sexual images. Crude or sexual banter. Sarcastic digs. Threats or other manipulation. If it isn’t appropriate to share in a face to face dialogue, it isn’t appropriate to share digitally. We can’t just assume our kids understand and adhere to this principle. We need to instruct and guide them. Let’s set them up for success – not failure.
- If you’re hiding your phone to communicate, you’re already on thin ice. As an extension of the previous rule, our teens need to learn that if they feel the need to hide their phone to communicate with a girlfriend or boyfriend (or any other friend, for that matter), they already know they are doing something they shouldn’t be doing. Whether it relates to our rules about content, time, or any other dating or communication boundary, we need to help our teens learn to conduct themselves with a clean conscience. Misbehaving in hiding leads to a dark and miserable and potentially dangerous path for life.
- Respect parental limits on phone time. Whatever your specific family guidelines, your teens do need limits on how much time they can be in digital contact with their dating partner. Lots of important life issues can get out of balance for teens who are consumed with their boyfriend/girlfriend: homework, sleep, housework, other relationships, sexual behavior, attitude toward parents and family members, etc. And too much time in communication can actually create a drain or a pressure on the dating relationship itself. 24/7 availability is simply too much teens to handle. Goodness – it’s too much for parents! Have digital curfew in the evening and some reasonable time limits on communication throughout the week.
- Have a day or two a week that are a break from digital communication. Yes, this is a very healthy and helpful practice for our teens. No, it is not a punishment. It’s simply a useful boundary and tool to help them keep their spirits, minds, and relationships healthy. I have actually had teens thank me for implementing this policy in their families. It took unnecessary pressure off them and their dating partner, and helped them start enjoying and appreciating each other again. Maybe we would do well to try this out for ourselves now and the. Just sayin.
- For more guidance on digital issues in parenting, check out my previous blog series here. And check back for one last installment in this series for some practical tips you can share with your teens to be as successful as possible in dating.