Our culture loves creating scapegoats. When the economy goes bad, we point fingers at the President. When kids don’t make high enough grades, we blame teachers. When a marriage crumbles, it’s always the other person’s fault. When we feel afraid, hurt, or disappointed, a scapegoat is never far out of reach.
We do the same thing as parents. It’s a given that teenagers are going to make bad choices and venture outside of proper boundaries. Sometimes those broken boundaries are intentional, but many times they are simply trying to find their way and make poor choices. I see this happening everyday with teenagers in how they use technology. Whether it is posting photos online, sending sexually related text messages, or playing excessively violent video games, teens and tweens fail to consistently make healthy choices. And just like that, parents have found their new scapegoat and its name is technology.
As far as scapegoats go, technology is an easy target. It can’t argue its own case. It won’t defend its merits. It will just stand there and take all the punches and blame you throw its way. The more the usage of technology grows, the more obvious target it becomes.
The result of casting blame is it keeps us from ever having to consider our own responsibility in the issues. Certainly there are healthy boundaries and limits that wise parents must place on their teenager’s tech usage. Likewise, there are also honest conversations that need to occur in how to use technology safely. This puts the responsibility squarely where it needs to be–in our hands as parents. Then not only are we taking responsibility, but it teaches our teens how to do the same with their actions.
There was a recent study from the USC School of Social Work that examined the sexual habits of teenagers. One of the findings of the study was that more sexually active students own smartphones. By the time the report found it way to MSNBC, the headline was “Teens Who Use Smartphones May Engage in More Sex.” Parenting blogs then picked up on the story with Parents.com stating that “Teenagers Who Own Smartphones More Likely to Be Sexually Active.” Do you see the subtle escalation in terms? By the time it reaches the masses of parents, smartphones cause greater teen sexual activity.
I’m very concerned with the number of teenagers who are engaging in sexual activity, but it doesn’t help to blame smartphones. In the same vein, we can’t use the internet as a scapegoat for why teenager boys look at pornography. Nor can we blame social media like Facebook and Instagram as the reason why teenager girls post sexy photos of themselves. All of these issues cause freight and heartbreak in a parent’s heart, but we must not blame technology for the brokenness, proclivities, and dysfunctions of man.
If we are going to ask our teenagers to take a hard look in the mirror to see their actions, we must remember that it is we that hold the mirror. As parents, we have the greatest influence and responsibility when it comes to our children. Instead of being angry or casting blame at technology, we must be willing to walk alongside our teenagers to model and teach how to use it safely, respectfully, and responsibly. Here are a few tips to consider.
Give Clear Boundaries
Many time teenagers venture outside of good boundaries because the boundary was never clearly defined. It’s not simply making a statement such as, “You can’t friend strangers online.” You have to go the extra mile and explain why some things are allowed and others are out of bounds.
Revisit the Ideal
Teaching good boundaries requires an ongoing conversation. It is not merely making a statement and then checking it off the list. For example, if you sat down with your thirteen-year-old and talked about how to use Facebook safely, explained the types of information he shouldn’t post, and helped him setup his account, that doesn’t mean your job is done. Continue to look for teachable moments to revisit and remind them of the boundaries.
Expect Proper Behavior
Most usage of technology is a privilege and not a right or even a necessity. It may be convenient to give your teenager a cell phone, but that doesn’t make it a right. It is a privilege. iPods, laptops, video games systems–they are all privileges. And with privileges come responsibilities. If you have clearly explained the boundaries and you continue to teach and model right usage, then it is reasonable to expect them to keep the boundaries.
Create an Open Dialogue for Future Followup
Talk with your child in such a way that they see you as the safest person for them to talk to if they are ever pressured to do something inappropriate with technology. If they do break a boundary, treat them with respect by listening and helping them think through the situation. Your kid is going to fail, and when they do, treat them dignity and grace.
Remove and Readjust When Necessary
If your first response to disobedience is to take away technology, then go back to Tip 4. If your child has repeated issues with the same privilege, then you need to remove it for a season so he can relearn good boundaries. For instance, if he repeatedly sneaks his phone into bed late at night to send text messages, that doesn’t mean the cell phone is to blame. It’s that he has forgotten or has a disregard for using it properly. It may need to be taken away for a period of time so he can refocus and relearn the boundary
Technology is always going to be a part of your teenager’s life. Like it or not, a large part of their community life will be online. Instead of hurling rocks and making technology when something goes wrong take a step back. Blame is easy. Taking and teaching responsibility is the hard and nobel job. Be willing to walk with your teen as they grow and have more privileges with technology. And when there is a breached boundary be right there with them to figure what role you need to play and responsibility they need to take.