Dr. Wes: In his book Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart imagines a world, just a few years away, which there are only two networks (Fox Prime and Fox Ultra). Most people rely instead on social networking to learn about their world. Each carries around personal communication device from which they not only broadcast every detail of their lives (and everyone else’s), but they give off a constant stream of data about their credit scores and biological composition. If you think that sounds preposterous, you’re not paying attention.
We’ve been writing about how technology impacts teens for as long as Double Take has been in print and online. Back then teenagers used AIM. I’m not sure they even know what this is anymore. Now Facebook and Twitter are major forms of communication, and Tumblr and Pintrest on are on the march. If you don’t know what those are Dear Parents, now would be a good time to learn. Teens have always led the way in new technology, a point not lost on Shteyngart, who calls the social network of the future Global Teens, and when you message someone it’s called “teening” them.
The overall point he’s making is the same one we’ve made in Double Take since 2004. The progress of technology moves faster than the guardian angel of our ethics can fly. In fact, whenever you open the box on a new iPhone or digital camera or video game, you’ll find there’s always one manual missing—The Ethics Manual. Parents have to start writing that one before the first charge is finished on the new gadget, or the Internet connection is made. If you don’t, then from that point forward you’ll be playing catch up.
We talked a few weeks ago (yet again) about sexting. When you hand your child his new tiny TV station smartphone, you take on the job of your child’s FCC. You regulate her usage. You can fine her or remove her right to broadcast. The same is true for Facebook, Twitter or any other superstation or superpress your child may posses. And you even get to regulate when those devices “sundown” at night, by managing their chargers or setting up software that shuts down computers or Internet.
Unfortunately, a lot of parents don’t seem to know this. They didn’t see this wave of technology coming, or the way it has become very personal for each and every teenager. Now they feel outwitted in a world they don’t really understand. It sounds pretty intimidating, and it will be, if you don’t regulate how your child is interacting with technology.
Want to talk more about teen tech? Join me this Wednesday (March 28th) at 11:00 a.m. on Up to Date with Steve Kraske on 89.3FM KCUR in Kansas City. I’ll be fielding listener questions and I’ll make the podcast available on dr-wes.com if you can’t catch the show live.
Miranda: Wes is so right. Our parents have to teach us lessons that they never learned in the middle of a technology explosion that’s created a whole host of problems they don’t know how to solve. One of the most crucial components that our traditional school education lacks is a “technological education.” I’m not talking here about how to press a button and turn a cell phone on. I’m talking about how to use technology with intelligence. It’s a great tool, or a horrible weapon depending on how you use it. As a parent it is your responsibility to set guidelines for your children’s behavior. Same goes for their technology behavior.
Each household has a different set of rules so I would sit down with your child and talk about these rules. That’s how you get to that Ethics Manual that Wes is referring to. Ask for input, but remember that you have the final say. Make expectations clear. A big theme of that conversation should be that whatever you do with technology, especially when it hits the Internet, will follow you forever. A great time to start this talk is beforeyour child enters junior high.
Make specific rules for the big four items: a digital camera, internet access, a cell phone, and a Facebook or Twitter account. Start with what age your kids are allowed to have each, and what they are allowed to do with them. For shared items like the camera and the computer, make sure they are centrally placed so you can monitor what your child is doing on the computer or when they borrow the camera. If your child misuses one of these, be prepared to take them away.
There will be resistance. Be prepared for the “but so-and-so already has a cell phone” argument. Make no mistake this is an important conversation to have. In the world we now live in this is a lesson that teens can no longer afford not to learn.
Wes Crenshaw, PhD is board certified in family and couples psychology (ABPP), and author of the books Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens and Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens. Learn about his writing and practice at www.dr-wes.com. Miranda Davis is a Free State High School senior who has co-authored the column since August 2011, and is the eighth in a series of teen co-authors. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to email@example.com. The column is reprinted from Double Take, published weekly since 2004 in The Lawrence Journal World. Opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.
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