Teens, Tech & Boundaries


Teens, Tech & Boundaries

Parents and teenagers debate many issues but technology and social media usage is one of the hottest, hot buttons I’ve discussed with my parenting friends. The time spent on phones, tablets and computers is overloaded with conflict and many differences of opinions. Social media usage and even how much time parents themselves spend scrolling and posting affect our kids and demonstrate what we value as important.

Parents and teens on opposing sides of the technology fence isn’t groundbreaking or revolutionary information, but here are a few of the basics when it comes to social media and device usage:

Is Any of It Time Well Spent?

Many parents feel that social media has an overall bad effect on their teens. They attribute it to low self-esteem, feelings of exclusion, depression and withdrawal. Parents often use methods to discourage engagement and limit time or access to devices and online social platforms. But ask most any kid or teenager and they’ll probably tell you they can self-regulate the amount of time they spend on their devices and scrolling/posting on social media. Addiction to the “fix” of seeing what’s new is a serious concern and although teens dismiss it, parents are well aware of the consequences. As punishment, some parents will take away a charger instead of the device. Kids will have to ration the amount of time they spend on the device before the battery dies.

Online - Isolation

What’s interesting is that parents often assume teens are wasting their time on their phones and tablets when in fact they may be using apps to help them study. (Really mom I’m studying!) This was a tough one for me to learn but every generation has access to better/faster technology than was there previously. (Hello, Dewey Decimal, electric typewriters or floppy disks!) My son uses several different quizzing apps on his phone to help him prep for tests. He downloaded one to study the written part of the Driver’s Ed course and he used another app to drill him on Spanish vocabulary and pronunciation.

And because there’s an app for everything, there’s now a healthy offering of distraction free apps that limit time you spend browsing/scrolling online. Google Chrome offers a free extension called StayFocusd that lets you decide how much you want to block online distractions by setting time limits. And let’s face it; Siri and Alexa are practically members of the family now.

Parents and teens may disagree about the value and amount of time spent on their phone when using such apps, but they both agree that after a while, social media is a distraction and wastes time. The only part that gets sticky between the concession is how long that while is.

The Will and Finding the Way

This may shock a few parents, so you might need to brace yourselves for this one. Teens who have technology taken from them at night or are limited by the amount of hours they can spend on their devices, often have another device. Yes. I wrote it. They have other devices. Affluence and quick access to spending cash provide opportunities for teens to buy burner phones (disposable and untraceable) which give them another way to communicate with their friends.

Also, you might want to do a little investigating on their social media accounts. There are a fair amount of teens who have two Instagram accounts: One for presenting appropriate content to their parents, teachers and neighbors, and oftentimes — not in all cases — several of those same teens have a separate, secret account they share more daring, honest, and raw posts with their friends.


My biggest Parenting Tech Ah-hah Moments

What my son taught me: “I put my phone and iPad away so that won’t distract me when I’m doing written homework.”

Radio or music in the background doesn’t bother him but he admits technology inhibits his focus on his written work. I thought he was limiting his own access to the devices because of my encouraging him, but this really is his own self-regulation. He’ll keep his technology with him if he’s quizzing and using memory flash card apps, but when there’s written work he feels compelled to put the tech away.

What my daughter taught me: “I don’t have to post it to prove it.”

Apparently, a lot of her classmates feel like if they don’t post to social media they can’t prove that they had the experience. There is a lot of pressure to “show” their friends the dress, the party, the food, the event. It’s a valuation that my daughter doesn’t seem to subscribe to, and for that I’m thankful.

Teens Posting Online

What they both taught their dad and me: “Put your phones away at dinner.”

Putting our phones away during family time is definitely is a no brainer and I’m glad they remind us. People put your stinking phones away and have IRL (in-real-life) face time with your kids. Let them know how important they are by giving them your undivided and non-distracted attention.

Just for Fun: The CRINGEY Parts of Parents on Social Media

Parents are great at embarrassing their kids but apparently we are frustrating them just a little bit when it comes to our technology and social learning curve. Here are a few funny side effects of parents trying to understand all of what their kids seem to know instinctively.

Social Media

“Mom. You can’t zoom in on everything.”

I’m the worst about seeing a picture on mobile and positioning my thumb and index finger ready to blow up the picture so I can see the details. Do you try to expand pictures or text on apps that don’t offer that feature? Snapchat must hate me because it won’t allow me to see the picture bigger.

“Easy on the filters there, Grandma.”

Not sure if you’re in on the fun filter game but it seems that when we learn how to use an app we can’t wait to use it all the time. On everything. Forever. Apparently, filters are one of those features that are like a strong cologne. A little goes a long way…or better yet…leave the whiskers, animated eyes and sparkling stars to the students.

“Aunt Karen, we don’t say ‘like a boss’ anymore.”

Teens HATE IT when we try to use their lingo because we often use it incorrectly. Several years ago, I was at a social event with girls much younger than me. One of them complimented my appearance and I replied, “It’s jacked up right?” All of those precious doe-eyes looked at me and blinked then one brave soul said, “You don’t like the way you look?” For any of you who’ve lost the cool factor, “jacked up” is not taking your appearance to another level like Beyoncé; it’s a replacement for the F word and means messed up. So from now on I’m “uber” careful not to use slang on social media that would make my kids feel “salty” with me.

Now it’s your turn: What are technology dos and don’ts in your family? Have you set limitations on screen time? How do you feel about apps that help with studying or limiting distractions? Sound off in the comments.