7 Practical Tips for Parenting Digital Natives

teens texting

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post by Linda Esposito.

"What are your recommendations for balancing technology use with socializing face-to-face?" This question was directed to a panel of psychologists at our recent high school PTA meeting. A universal parenting dilemma in our social media landscape, if ever one existed post-1999.

The evening's discussion began with adolescent brain development and ended with Facebook, Instagram and chat rooms. Nervous nods and sighs of relief were exchanged as parents volunteered one teen antic after another. I shared how my son asked for an iPhone upon starting middle school. He got a bells-and whistle-less flip phone instead.

Call me old-school, but the last thing I need is a data plan to add to the hormonal mix.

As a mental health professional, I noted the anxiety in the room around being a teen back in the day mixed with parenting a teen now. An old high school classmate's voiced surfaced:"You know Linda, high school makes or breaks you."

'80s big hair and shoulder pads aside, common sense parenting prevails.

A main tenet of psychotherapy is teaching your client the world is basically a safe place, where most people are inherently good. And technology is basically a safe platform. The majority of teens will use it wisely, given proper adult supervision.

Here are seven common myths, and the facts and tips to help you navigate the digital divide:

Myth #1: Teens use more alcohol and drugs because of smartphones.

Fact: Many alcohol companies in the U.S. have voluntarily agreed not to exploit advertising on social media to viewers under the legal drinking age. Monitoring these ads is nearly impossible, however.

The good news is teenage alcohol and drug use has reached historic lows. Compared to teens in 1980, today's high school seniors consume 30% less alcohol. Twenty-five percent have tried illegal drugs, compared to 43% of teens in 1981.

Parenting tip: You can't expect physicians, law makers and those who study youth culture to monitor your teen's behaviors. Talk to them about what it was like for you growing up. Ask questions. Have they tried alcohol? Do their friends use drugs? Beware of the signs (academic problems, slurred speech, sudden change in peer groups, etc).

Myth #2: Teens are more antisocial because of YouTube.

Fact: Nature, nurture and parenting styles impact personality characteristics more than content on any YouTube video. The bad news is hundreds of teens logged in to view a live stream of a youth suicide in 2008. The good news is you can block unwanted content via YouTube Safety Mode.

Parenting tip: Use the media hype surrounding sensitive topics as an opportunity for meaningful conversations.

Myth #3: Teens are more sexually active because they watch pornography on their smartphones.

Fact: Today's teenagers are also far less likely to have sex or get pregnant compared with their parent's generation. According to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, boys 15-17 report 22% less sex than their counterparts in 1988. For girls, the percentage is reduced by 5.2%.

Parenting tip:
 Get their passwords, usernames and profile information. Accept that they'll accuse you of spying and let it go. Think back to your parents breathing into the other phone line as you gossiped about kids getting hot and heavy in the school bathrooms.

Myth #4: Teens lie to you via text messaging.

Fact: The lack of face-to-face contact may encourage some to "type creatively." However, kids are more influenced by their peers, environment and role models at home.

Parenting tip: Supervise -- even if you can't be physically present. If you don't believe she's at the library, have her send a picture. Enlist friends, neighbors and older siblings to verify her location while you're at work.

Myth #5: Teens are isolated because they're visiting chat rooms all night.

Fact: The anonymity of chats increases the possibility of deceit. Some individuals prey on the social isolation of teens.

Parenting tip: Research which sites are safe. Look at how your family socializes and spends recreation time. Encourage family walks around the block after dinner. Teen social skills groups can improve confidence and help overcome shyness.

Myth #6: Teens are more depressed because of Facebook.

Fact: "Facebook depression" has been acknowledged by Pediatrics as a real issue impacting teens who spend too much time on social media sites. Compounding this reality is the 24/7 nature of the Internet. Back in the day, we had a break from our peers after school and on weekends.

This is still an empirically bereft area of study because of the newness of social media.

Parenting tip: Have the "edited reality" conversation. Anyone can edit themselves to appear smarter, funnier and nearly physically flawless. Discuss Photoshop. Teens are concrete and literal thinkers. When viewing status updates and birthday party photos, they may conclude "everyone" is having fun and they're "always" excluded.

Myth #7: Teens won't get into good colleges because of social media.

Fact: Teens are impulsive. They lack the frame of reference to know one hasty profanity-filled rant about their volleyball coach could land in front of the computer screens of college admissions personnel.

Parenting tip: Discuss how deleting a tweet doesn't delete it from the Cloud's archives.

In summary, #twerking, selfies and the #hawt new social media platforms of tomorrow are here to stay.

The good news is there's always options. You can listen to the "safety experts" and purchase monitoring software if that helps you sleep soundly at night.

Or you could follow this parental concept as old as TV commercials, billboard ads and smoke signals (and a crucial collegiate acronym, btw):




And I'll bet my Instagram-filtered kale and quinoa casserole on that one.

We are pleased to announce that Bark will be taking over where we leave off. The uKnowKids mission to protect digital kids will live on with Bark. Our team will be working closely with Bark’s team in the future, so that we can continue making the digital world a safer, better place for kids and their families. While we are disappointed we could not complete this mission independently, we are also pleased to hand the uKnowKids baton to Bark.
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