Talking Technology with Teens: Part I

This is a summary of the first part of my talk at Bowen Library, Maroubra, on 18 September. My part of the talk was aimed at helping parents work out how to deal with technology.

Teenagers are digital natives. In their short lifetimes they have witnessed the rise of social media, smartphones and multiplayer gaming. Schools have latched on to this digital revolution, and computers are as big a part of their study lives as of their parents work life.

We are becoming aware of risks and harms of the digital world. Research has scrambled to understand the effect of society’s wholesale surrender to the mighty god Internet. Videogame addiction, which seems to be similar in nature to gambling addiction, has emerged has a growing problem. Social media’s impact on self-esteem is becoming more apparent. The effect of online pornography on relationships and sexual norms is gaining evidence.

As I’ve written previously, being a digital native makes it harder to opt out of this digital world. Government cannot move fast enough to inform and protect young people from these harms. Parents, families and communities must take up the mantle of guides and guardians for the vulnerable young. To be able to do this effectively, the first step to being able to talk to young people about technology. The following 5 rules should serve as a guide to talking with your young people:

  1. Get informed
  2. Know where you stand
  3. Take the initiative
  4. Don’t be arrogant. Be curious
  5. Don’t be a hypocrite. Be consistent

Before you talk to the young person (people):

Get informed of the risks and harms (and benefits) of technology use. Here are some links on porn, gaming and social media that can inform. Also, inform yourself of the young person’s school policy and ask other parents (or other kids) about their family’s use of digital devices.

Know where you stand on the issue of technology use. As a parent, would you prefer that your child learns their own limits on technology (valuing autonomy or freedom), or that they don’t get caught in bad habits (valuing protection from harm). Would you prefer that your child learns and plays as you did as a child (traditional values) or that your child is as engaged as possible with technology as it’s the “way of the future” (progressive values). Knowing where you stand on these and other issues is vital before talking to young people. Having conversations about these issues with your partner, extended family and friends is also important.

(More to come)

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