We recently taught a parenting seminar and had teenagers help us with the question-and-answer panel at the end. One girl commented on the questions the parents asked:
“We actually had more questions on technology than we did on talking to your kids about sex? What’s up with that?”
Typically, we have a plethora of questions about talking to your children about puberty and sex. This week, there were none. 90 percent of the questions, however, were about technology.
We are raising kids in a YouTube culture.
As counselors with a combined almost 40 years of experience working with kids, there are a few things we believe you need to know. We’ll keep it to three today—three that we think are the most important in terms of protecting and connecting with your child in the midst of this technology-riddled world.
Get safety systems in place. When talking about any Internet/technology phenomenon—YouTube being only one of the many trendy right now—we believe the first rule of thumb is always to protect your child.
Boys and girls alike find their way to Internet pornography (even on YouTube) all too easily. If you have young children, they need you to have both a monitoring system and filter in place—on the computer, the network, and any device that links to the Internet. A few great resources are InternetSafety101.org, GetNetWise.org, and SpectorSoft.com. It takes a little research but will save you and your child a little heartache when they’re exposed to something they can never un-see.
If you have teenagers, you want to gradually give them more freedom in terms of technology. They need to learn responsibility and do so with a graduated system of trust and accountability. We talk more about this idea in our books, Intentional Parenting and Modern Parents, Vintage Values.
Be a watcher of what they watch. In other words, use technology as a means to connect with your child, especially if they’re a teen (when opportunities to connect decrease significantly).
I (Sissy) met with a mother and daughter recently who were arguing regularly (the daughter was 14, by the way). They had a tense moment in my office where the mom ended the conversation with “AND THE LAST THING I WANT TO DO IS WATCH YOUR SILLY YOUTUBE VIDEOS AT NIGHT.” After the discussion, I promptly had the daughter leave the room and said to the mother, “Watching the silly YouTube videos with your teenage daughter is precisely what you need to do.”
We encourage parents to explore what their adolescent children love. It will help you know them and communicate you care about more than grades and respect. Watch what they watch. Learn to value what they value. Let them share those things with you. They need to and want to be connected with you, and technology is a fantastic opportunity to do that.
Model Healthy Limits. Research continues to remind us that kids learn more through observation than through information. It’s important that we pay close attention to the amount of time we spend in front of our laptop or glued to our cell phone. It’s helpful to kids when all family members (big and small) drop their phones or gadgets in an identified place at meal times or before bed.
Furthermore, consider taking a technology Sabbath where everyone in the family is technology-free for a few hours on the weekend or one Saturday a quarter. We’ve heard families decide to take technology-free vacations or long weekends in the summer. This experiment can facilitate great conversation and more connectedness (the real kind of connected; not the social media version).
David Thomas and Sissy Goff work with children, adolescents, young adults, and families at Daystar Counseling in Nashville, Tenn. You can find a list of their resources here. Also, watch their episode, Raising Kids in a YouTube Culture, on TheChatwithPriscilla.com.