Behind the screens of your teen’s online world

It’s no secret that teenagers are spending more time online than ever before. It can be overwhelming trying to stay afloat in the world of new social media platforms, apps and games. So if your teen was going to text you a list of things they wish you knew about the online world, it would probably look like this.

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1. My online life is part of my real life

Nothing frustrates kids more than being told that they should put their device down and go outside and climb a tree. Yes, they need far less screen time and far more tree time, but teens want you to understand how important their online activity is. The two worlds that teenagers live in overlap so often that it can be hard for them to tell the difference.

For teens, a conversation with a friend online is as real as one at a picnic table over lunch. A victory against a friend in a video game is as meaningful as winning a sports match. Learning online is sometimes as valuable as learning in a classroom. Some of the skills teens are learning online can be as useful in the future as skills learned from climbing trees.

2. You can’t pause online games

“Mum, I know I’ve got to mow the lawn, but it was raining earlier so I decided to start this game and I’m doing really well and I can’t stop now. If I go AFK (away from keyboard), then I let down all my team mates and sabotage the game for everyone.” Limiting screen time can be a good idea, but talking to your teen about what they are trying to achieve in a particular game, and then setting rules from there, works well. For example, instead of a time limit, set rules around the number of checkpoints or rounds they can complete before moving on to something else.

3. Everyone can see your posts, Mum

The worst nightmare for some kids is that their parents become ‘internet famous’ – and not in a good way. If you don’t already know how to change your privacy settings on social media, ask your teen to show you how or do a quick Google search. This will also pave the way for good conversations with your teen about what they should and shouldn’t share with the world.

4. Documenting my experiences matters

When you were a teenager you wanted to tell your friends about your weekend. You would describe the concert you went to or the fun you had at the beach. You would brag about your breakfast. Well, maybe not that, but you would share stories with your friends.

When kids take photos of their food, film concerts and Snapchat themselves hanging out, it’s because they want to share the experience. It matters to them. It may be hard to understand how disconnecting yourself from a moment to capture it on a device adds to the experience. But instead of getting frustrated, you could offer to take the photo. This may sound counter-intuitive, but when your teen looks back at the photo of that moment, you will be part of the memory.

5. I still like hugs and high fives

Parents can connect with teenagers really effectively through technology. You can communicate that you love your kid with encouraging words in a text. You can spend quality time with them playing games. You can ‘like’ that photo that you took of them. You can share the video they made as an act of service. But you can’t hug your kid through a screen. As much as teenagers are individuating, they still crave positive physical contact.

Attend a Toolbox parenting course

Toolbox courses inspire and equip whānau. They are bursting with great advice, humour and encouragement, offering practical strategies and insights into developmental stages. Parents leave reassured that challenges are common to all families and that they’re not alone on their parenting journey. The courses are run over a number of weeks in a relaxed and conversational small group setting with a trained facilitator. The five courses – Building Awesome Whānau, Baby and Toddler Years, Primary Years, Intermediate Years, and Teenage Years. Find out more and register here.