By Christine Murray, PhD, LPC, LMFT, Director of the Healthy Relationships Initiative

Our Healthy Relationships Initiative (HRI) team is excited to partner with Triad Moms on Main on this blog series. In this series, we offer general guidance to relationship or family questions submitted by TMoM community members. If you’ve got a question to ask, please share it anonymously on the form here.

I feel like my teen daughter is on her phone all. the. time! If she’s not texting, she watching YouTube, and if she’s not watching YouTube, she’s snapchatting or playing a game. I try to set limits, but she seems to find ways around them. This also leads to a lot of fights between us, so I’ve started wondering if I should just let her use it when she wants. What’s the best way to handle teens’ phone time?  ~ Tech-Weary Mom

Dear Tech-Weary Mom:

Navigating the ever-changing world of technology is one of the rites of passage for parents and teens today. It’s new territory, too, as parents of today’s teens didn’t have the same level of access to technology and integration of technology into their daily lives when they were that age. If you feel like you’re figuring the whole thing out as you go, it’s because you are!

You didn’t specify the age of your daughter, but the age and maturity of teens vary widely and should influence how you handle the technology challenges you’re facing. In the early teen years, it’s important for all parents to take an active role in helping teens learn how to use technology safely. This includes learning how to use privacy settings, protect themselves from cyberbullying and other possible dangers of the Internet, and set healthy boundaries with technology to promote positive mental health and social skills. For younger teens, this often does mean that parents set limits on technology time and actively monitor their children’s technology behaviors.

As teens get older, keep in mind that your focus as her parent is to help prepare her to become an independent adult. You may still find it useful to have rules about technology time (such as a “curfew” for putting away technology and going to sleep at bedtime) as long as your daughter is living in your house. However, as your daughter’s maturity increases, so too can you increase her opportunities to make her own decisions about technology use—but also to accept responsibility of her choices in this area of life.

Keeping an open line of communication is very important as you give your teen more freedom. You still want to influence her in a positive direction and mentor her to make healthy, wise decisions about her choices today and what impact they may have for her future. Through ongoing conversations with your daughter about her use of technology, consider asking questions that help her think through the impact that the time and way she spends using technology has on her life, emotions, and well-being. For example, questions you may ask include the following: “How did you feel this morning after staying up so late watching YouTube videos?;” “Do you ever see things on social media that make you feel worse about yourself?;” and “How would you handle it if you found out someone was spreading rumors about you online?”

In addition to asking questions to help your daughter reflect on her experiences with technology, consider talking with her about how teens today need to be mindful of their digital footprint for future college and job applications. You may even take time to search together for your own digital presence online and talk through decisions you’ve made about your presence on social media with respect to your professional and personal reputation.

Finally, remember that your own use of technology offers opportunities to influence your teen’s use of technology—for better or for worse! Many parents today lament how much time their children spend using technology, but don’t realize how much they’re using technology themselves. You can help your child learn how to set healthy limits with technology by modeling positive boundaries around technology in your own life. On the other hand, parents who are technology-averse could benefit from taking time to learn more about technology and getting more connected. You’ll be a more credible resource on technology if your teen views you as tech-savvy enough to have an opinion on the subject.

Overall, technology can be an overwhelming, complex, and even scary aspect of parenting teenagers. Reach out to other parents to learn more about how they’re navigating this aspect of parenting, and find credible sources of information online to keep learning more on this important topic. And, be sure to check out our upcoming free, online HRI Relationship Booster on the topic of Parents, Teens, & Technology on Friday, September 6th, at noon for even more tips on this subject from HRI.

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