What specific guidelines should we use with preteens and young teens?
- Utilize parental device checks as needed. While this does not mean constantly confiscating phones or other devices, it does mean you reserve the right to check out devices anytime you feel you have a reason, including regular periodic checks.
- Parents don’t lurk or snoop to excess. Becoming too invasive in your child’s digital world is likely to backfire, setting up all kinds of negative dynamics you will wish were not happening. Keep it reasonable.
- No devices in the bedroom after bedtime. Make this a standard non-negotiable rule, and your kids will not only accept it, but may even come to appreciate it at some point. (I said they may. That is certainly no guarantee.) Whether they appreciate this guideline, or not, it will be an important part of their technolescent success.
- No direct social interaction with non real-world friends. Again, make this a non-negotiable and explain why it is so important. Help them understand in clear terms why this is such a critical guideline for their young lives.
- Report anything inappropriate to parents immediately. (And we won’t freak out!) Encourage an open dialogue between your kids and yourself about their digital world experiences, and show them that you can handle discussing the tough stuff – which means they are likely to actually talk to you about the tough stuff.
- Turn off device within two minutes of being told, unless a longer time frame is specified. Use whatever time frame you want, but I would strongly urge you to have a rule like this in place. And take charge decisively when they break the rule. It will save you countless frustration down the road. Trust me on this.
- Parents lead regular family discussions regarding digital life and its foundation on “heart life.” Be proactive in helping your kids grow up understanding their digital life experiences are only a part of their larger life – hopefully a life of clear purpose and value.
How should these guidelines change as our teens grow? Keep the same general perspective and structure, but gradually increase freedom as teens show Maturity, Responsibility, and Respect. This process will likely look different for different kids, just as these qualities will develop at different rates from one teen to another. Allow broader social interactions on digital media, but only with the agreement that parents are always allowed to friend/follow all accounts, as well as requiring teens to work to pay for any data overage or higher volume data plans. This isn’t a punishment. It is a lesson in personal responsibility and life management.
Anything I should NOT be doing? Absolutely! Don’t assume everything is fine because you have good kids, leaving them to navigate the technolescent waters without your direct guidance and supervision. Today’s world is filled with forces that are anything but passive. Good kids can easily make foolish choices, and need our guidance, encouragement, and discipline to help them grow along the best path. Don’t get consumed with snooping or lurking on your kids’ devices and/or accounts. Check occasionally, just to see how things are going, and check additionally if you have a compelling concern. But don’t ruin your peace of mind or your relationship with your teen by getting consumed with these dynamics. Don’t assume you know about all the major players and dynamics in the technolescent world this year because you understood them all last year. If you aren’t actively seeking awareness and education about new and changing dynamics, you are falling behind.
Tune in next week for a final installment in this crucial series…