Technology, Family and Teens

Teens and families are bombarded by technology in many forms: cell phones, computers, television, and electronic gaming systems. The ability to access the internet has increased dramatically. A recent study of teen internet behavior sponsored by the online security company McAfee was published by Reuters Health Information June 25, 2012. The survey “found 70% of teens had hidden their online behavior from their parents in 2012, up from 45% of teens in 2010, when McAfee conducted the same survey.” And what did the survey show that teens were accessing on the internet? The primary areas where teens hid their viewing included 43% who viewed violent content online, while 36% read sexual content, and 32% viewed pornography.

Parents have a real challenge here since technology is necessary today for teens to function both academically and socially. Communication via cell phones can help teens if they are having difficulties and need help. Text-messaging is one of the primary means of staying in touch with peers; and many parents also text message their teens. The availability to access information with the internet for legitimate academic research helps with education. So what is a parent to do?

Teach your children before they reach their teen years about appropriate limits and boundaries with technology. By starting earlier, the ground rules will be better established about cell phones and computers and your struggles will hopefully be less. What are some good guidelines? First establish some “no tech zones” in your home. The dinner table and the bedroom should be two primary no tech zones. Cell phones should be checked and muted before sitting down to eat dinner with the family. So yes, this means no texting during dinner. Cell phones, laptops, ipads, and electronic gaming should be shut down a minimum of thirty minutes before bedtime to give your children time to prepare for bed and lower their arousal so they can have good sleep. And one of the best ways to teach your child and teen is to model good behavior with technology. Shut your cell phone down at the dinner table. Do not surf the web late at night. Our children often learn more by watching our behaviors than by listening to our words.

Written by Debra Atkisson, M.D. and Sharon Cook, LCSW, LMFT

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