Screens, video games and social media are three of the things parents struggle with the most. I have seen a huge increase in challenges among parents with these topics over the past 25 years that I have been working with parents and families.

Technology is a constantly-evolving thing, but one thing I know for sure is that it’s not going anywhere. I have really transformed the way that I feel about technology in regard to my children. I remember when my teenage son was 8. We bought him a Nintendo Wii. It was his first real video game system (other than a handheld DS).

technology and teenagers

Playing it made him happy.

And him playing it sometimes made me crazy.

It was always “One more minute” or “Let me finish this level” or “Let me finish this race.” I had not yet realized the importance of sitting down with him to enter his world and figure out what he’s doing on the Wii and why he enjoyed it so much. And I did not understand the concept of levels and such.

Give respect to get respect

On more than one occasion I marched in there after asking/telling him to turn it off, him not doing it, and turned it off when he was in the middle of something. He would get so angry with me and I would get so mad at him for being disrespectful.

I thought it was all his fault.

Boy was I wrong!

I was the one being disrespectful in turning the tv off in the middle of what he was doing. Can you imagine how angry I would be if someone came and turned off my computer in the middle of writing this blog post???

I finally realized the error of my ways and began to give my kids a 5-minute warning when I knew that they were playing something that wasn’t easily turned off in the moment. This made our house run so much more smoothly.

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Just throw it out?

There was more than one occasion when I was so frustrated with the Wii that I actually fantasized throwing it on the sidewalk outside and stomping on it. I fantasized pulling the plug and giving away our tv’s, cell phones, video game devices etc. Basically, I was ready to go back and live in a cave with my family.

It was at that point a few years ago that a good friend began to turn my thinking on technology around. She pointed out that we will never get rid of technology and we cannot keep our kids off of it as they grow. The best shot we’ve got is to find a way to live with it successfully and help our kids to live with it as well. That was a huge light-bulb moment for me. Now I try to find ways to connect with them through technology and be connected to what they are doing on technology.

Enter their world

It helps for me to understand and have a pulse on what they are doing on technology. Sometimes, especially when they start playing a new video game, I will sit down and ask them to teach me how to play. All three of my kids absolutely love this as it empowers them to know something I don’t. And they love watching me play horribly on the game.

I don’t care if I play well or badly, so everyone has fun when Mom gets in on the action.

One of my good friends/colleagues shared the best piece of advice during our interview with her for our technology summit (you can still access it by clicking the link). This was another turning point for me with technology. Living in Silicon Valley and having a husband in the tech world, she has a unique perspective on technology. She encourages her children to be not just consumers of technology, but creators as well.

This was a huge A-ha for me

My 11-year-old son has been saying for some time that he wants to be a YouTuber when he grows up. This is quite a common desire for many boys his age. Prior to what my friend said, I just sort of brushed it off whenever he said it. But for his 11th birthday, we bought him a device that allows him to screen record when he is playing a video game. Now he and his friends have fun making YouTube videos to share. And my older son is dabbling in the online marketplace this year which I am fully supporting.

There is a definite risk with technology that our children can become addicted. Additude Magazine has a great article talking about this topic when it comes to kids with ADHD. I’m not suggesting we should be lulled into a false sense of security around this issue.

But no matter what, our children simply MUST learn how to live with technology. I hear from many parents who wistfully remember the “good old days” when they played outside with friends until the street lights came on and they had to go home.

Times have changed.

In most parts of the country, it’s not like that anymore. Our children’s time is generally very structured and regimented. They are probably in different activities and sports. And they are CONNECTED.

Many parents worry that their children don’t know how to socialize. I would argue that for the most part, from what I have observed they socialize just fine. But it is DIFFERENT from how we were taught to socialize. Just because it’s different doesn’t make it wrong. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean they have a problem or are becoming less human.

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Times have really changed.

Like it or not, the world they are growing up in looks vastly different from the world we grew up in. Could you have imagined someone telling our parents to call a strange 40-year-old man to come and pick us up to take us somewhere? Never in a million years. How many people use Uber today?

Could you have imagined having access to more information than the Encyclopedia Britannica in your hand? Our kids can’t imagine not having it.

Could you have imagined being able to look up a video to learn about just about anything you want? With YouTube, our kids (and we) can do just that.

There is no way to put the genie back in the bottle as they say. The best we can do is try to keep up with the changing times and help our children navigate this new, largely unfamiliar (at least to us) world. Taking technology away or hiding our children from it, in all honesty is not going to prepare them for the future, for the world that they will live in. The best we can do now is to help them learn how to remain human while they are living right alongside technology.

The darker side of the issue

Cyber-bullying is certainly an issue. As parents we must teach our children the basic rules of human decency. Don’t say anything online that you would not say in person. Don’t type anything you would not want your parent/grandparent/teacher to read, etc. We must also teach them to tell us when they come across a problem online so that we can help them out with it, whether the problem was caused by them or someone else.

But that level of comfort, trust and communication is accomplished through connection to our children. Showing a genuine interest and curiosity in what they are doing online – Fortnite, Minecraft, SnapChat, Instagram, etc. while reserving our judgments about it.

There are things like streaks on SnapChat. If you are unfamiliar with them, you create a streak with another person for every day that you both send a message back and forth to each other. Streaks are measured by the number of days they have been going on. And the “depth” of a friendship is sometimes measured by the length of the streak. The creators of SnapChat were brilliant to build this into their app. It nearly guarantees that users will check in every single day. But kids have found a way to live with this seemingly crazy Pavlovian-dog, lever-pulling behavior training. When they go on vacation, many kids give their sign-in info to a friend to keep their streaks “alive” while they are gone.

Humans are ingenious. We find a way. And so will our kids.

On the bright side

Many parents I speak with are very concerned about our children. I actually am hopelessly optimistic. This generation that is coming along now will be better at knowing how to access information than we ever were. They do not seem as interested in the desire to accumulate “stuff” like my generation who grew up in the 80s. They seem to have a desire to respect the earth and understand that our collective actions will impact us all. And as the Parkland students show, they are vocal and brave and stand up for what they believe in.

Far from being concerned about our children, I am in awe of our children. They have as much or more to teach us as we have to teach them. They WILL lead us into the future. And we will be fortunate to walk alongside of them as they do so.

>>> Fill out the form below to get my FREE guide, 50 Ways to Make Screen Time Manageable in Your Home <<<

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