So often parents focus on the “right” age for a phone, for social media accounts, for online gaming permission, a YouTube Channel all their own, that we spend a lot of time in prevention and anticipation mode. However, one area that gets discussed less is what happens after we say yes to the tech. How do we continue to keep them safe? How do we engage them so we have an understanding of their experience online? How do we think about time management and healthy habits? How do we respond to inevitable lapses in judgment? Below are seven tips for continued parenting and support for our tweens and teens once they’ve been given the green light to be on social media.
- Make A Fundamental File: Get Basic. It’s hard to improve our digital parenting when we don’t know what they’re using. Make a document or write down all the places your tweens and teens like to go online. Ask yourself: Where are they online? Where do they have accounts? And what do they like to do? Who are they “with” online? Why do they like this tech? Not sure, ask them! The Fundamental File is a great gateway to conversation and connection about life online.
- Create A Job Description: Our middle school students need our guidance and direction. Expectations and boundaries make them feel safe, secure, and seen. Get specific with an iRules contract or a media plan to support their online use. Not sure where to begin? Think of behaviors you do want to see and start there. Then think of ways you want to protect or prevent and keep building. Include your child in the Job Description and ask for their feedback in making it work.
- Zoom Out: Instead of focusing on measured minutes of screen time or horrifying headlines, take an aerial view of your child’s life. Assess the role that screens play. Consider the whole child’s academic, social, emotional, and physical health. Think of their connection to others, their contribution to the family system, and their ability to problem solve and ask for help. Are these areas of your child’s life developing well and feeling healthy? Are there particular places of challenge? Focus there. Instead of the daily anxiety and family tension of screen use, think of how it integrates into their whole life. Make changes and build supports from there
- Tech Curfew: One of the greatest gifts we can give to our middle schoolers is the beginning and end of their day and their life online. A Tech Curfew is a nice way to have some consistency and closure to the daily rhythms of our tweens and teens. The physical and emotional benefits of consistent and uninterrupted sleep are well known, but it’s also important to think of the social benefits of being “away” and “off” to recalibrate and regroup. An important step to building a functional Tech Curfew is to frame it as a support instead of a punishment.
- Knowledge is Power: If your middle schooler is on social media, they’re likely consuming a lot of content from a lot of voices and sources. They’ll need your support to hear through the noise of social technology. Helping them become media critics, questioning and probing into what information is true, which pictures have filters, which headlines are clickbait, the attention economy of the corporations, and the emotional regulation of viewing “highlight reels” of their peers and others. Increase your own digital literacy and engagement by learning about, using, and getting to know the places your tweens and teens spend time online.
- Tech Talk: The more we normalize that our children use tech and it will be a big part of their lives, the more we can teach and guide them. Taking tech out of isolation, neutralizing our resistance, and making it central to discussions at home like we do for any other aspect of our child’s life (school, sports, friends, performances) is like the seat belt of online safety. Get curious about their thoughts and beliefs and don’t be afraid to share yours. The more we share and learn from each other, the better our relationship to the tech—and each other—becomes.
- Response Plan: It would be both unreasonable and unwise to think that our adolescents will never make a mistake online. Instead, it is practical to plan for it. Having a Response Plan for What Happens When Mistakes Happen is critical. Do our children know that we can handle their mistakes and we’re on their team? Do they know we understand they are growing and learning and mistakes are part of that process? Do they know we’ve made mistakes (and still do!) and have to keep practicing our social skills online? Even if we don’t always like what happens online, they are not alone.