Remember back when you were dating as a teenager, and you wondered why your girlfriend or boyfriend hadn’t responded to your text within thirty minutes? So frustrating, wasn’t it?! It’s like, “What’s the problem? Did I do something wrong? Is he cheating on me? What did I say? Is she mad at me again? Maybe I should switch to Snapchat and see what’s up there?”
No? Oh, that’s right. None of these dynamics existed when we were teens. My, how the landscape has changed! Today’s teens live immersed in a digital world that has profoundly changed what it means to be in a dating relationship. Chief among the many ways this has transformed relationships is the fact that they can now stay in direct contact with one another 24/7.
Sure, this may afford them more opportunities for fun and flirting and such. But have you considered the kind of pressure this adds to the relationship dynamics between two adolescents who still have a great deal of growing and maturing to do? Their brains, hormones, and spirits can be so easily overwhelmed by the digital deluge. And whether they like it or not, whether we like it or not, they desperately need our guidance in maintaining reasonable limits for their communication with one another. I am working with more and more teens and parents where this is clearly a problem area in need of direct intervention. Here are some of the guidelines I typically recommend to parents of teens. I would love to hear any other ideas or concerns you have about this subject.
1. Have a clear consistently enforced digital curfew. In order to really make this happen, you are probably going to have to have a screen turn-in time. Phones, tablets, laptops, etc. are either handed in to parents or placed in a designated spot that allows for some rest time away from digital dating communication well before bedtime until the next day. Be sure to emphasize that this is not about punishment or snooping. And it isn’t because she or he has done something wrong. It is simply about helping your teen keep a healthy balance while in a relationship.
2. Directly check your teen’s digital communication on a periodic basis. Yes, this is where things get really dicey. First of all, I recommend telling your kids very directly that this is something that will happen. While there are occasional situations where “snooping” is warranted, I have found an open policy to work best for the norm. In this spirit of openness, I suggest telling them once or twice a month (more frequently, if there have been problems in this area) to hand over one or more of their digital devices and log you in to wherever you want to check. Again, explain that this is not about mistrust, but rather about proactively guiding them and ensuring they are not in water over their heads. When you look through their activity, don’t scrutinize every single element of their communication. Look at the big picture, check for any glaring problems, and be sure to note places where your teen is using healthy and mature judgment in their digital conduct.
3. Regularly discuss with your teen how they are doing in their dating relationship and how things are going with social media and digital communication. Be sure to listen more than you lecture. Offer encouragement and support in addition to guidelines and limits. Doing your best to maintain a healthy, respectful, and open relationship between you and your teen is one of the most powerful ways you can help them navigate the complex landscape of life!
I know this whole issue can be so daunting and difficult in so many families. Let me know if you need more help, and I will continue to share more ideas as we move forward together in this constantly changing digital culture.