Teens & Media

Posted: January 17, 2012 in Parenting
Tags: , , , , , , ,

We originally posted this picture as a joke, but I’ve had more comments about this pic than ANY family pic we’ve taken. It seems to sum up today’s modern family.  Especially one with TEENS & MEDIA.

Helping teens navigate the media superhighway is difficult.  I’ve heard parents take many approaches.  Some say, “There’s NO WAY my kid is getting a cell phone, facebook page, etc.  There’s too many dangers out there.”  Others are on the other end of the spectrum, getting their kids into the technical revolution with little or no regard to age.  (our 5 year-old son Zeke can already play games on my phone and iPad)  Most of the parents I talk to seem to be OK with a facebook or a smartphone for their teens, but they just debate AT WHICH AGE a kid is ready to handle it.  After all, there are many temptations out there. There are many predators out there. There are all kinds of traps for young people.   What’s the solution?  How can I find a balance?

After 13 years of youth ministry and counseling with teens and parents, my wife and I have come to this realization:  When your child is 13, you only have 5-6 years to “prepare” them for life on their own.  That means 5-6 years to help them manage their own finances (with a debit card, checking & savings account);  drive a car (get gas, deal with maniacs, change a tire, find their way around the Valley); start dating (establishing trusting, healthy boundaries with the opposite sex); and yes, navigate the media superhighway (including: downloading music, using the internet, powering up a smartphone along with all the features and functions).   Overwhelmed yet?  Don’t be!  Have some fun with it.  Parenting is an adventure!

The bottom line is that your teens WILL get online; fire up a friend’s smartphone/iPad; download music, etc.  They will do this WITH YOU or WITHOUT YOU.  As parents, we’ve decided to help them while they’re in our supervision.  We’ve decided to have some fun with it. We’ve decided to help give our kids some godly filters they can practice along the way.

Because of this, here’s how we “coach” our kids to handle their technology:

1.  Facebook:  We allowed our kids to get a facebook page when they turned 13.  What we check: At first, we checked their friends, posts, pictures, status updates, etc.  Yes, we check ALL of them. Then, when trust is established, we back off and check periodically.  We also invite other parents to check on our kids as well.  We know their password and can check at any time.  Actually, we’ve also seen it as a blessing.  Our kids are so good at keeping everything up to date, that we usually know what they’re thinking, where they’re at, and what they’re up to.  (It’s actually helped us get to know what’s really ‘inside’ the mind of our kids. They post random thoughts about everything from music to life in the US.  Stuff that may not even come up in conversation!) There have been times when we have asked our girls to remove a post or picture that we (or someone else) has found misleading or offensive. We use that as a teachable moment to remind them how important it is to consider how OTHERS may interpret something.  Consequences: We reserve the right to suspend their page or remove privileges all together if we feel that our rules or guidelines have not been followed.  Once, we had to terminate their page and set up a new one because of a hacker.  But, to tell you how “good” our kids are…One of my daughters chose to “fast” from Facebook for a year so she could devote herself more fully to God and not have it consume her time.  Amazing.

2. Cell phone:  We first let them get a cell phone at age 11.  (basic phone) But with today’s more-readily accessible technology, they all had “smartphones” [iPhones] by age 13.  Now that EVERYTHING is on our kids’ phones, this is their main lifeline.  This is where they download their music, go on facebook, buy apps, etc.  What we check: Just like facebook, we reserve the right to check ANY of their content on their phones at any time.  We do random checks of all txt messages, patrol their contact lists, music library, etc AT ANY TIME.  Occasionally, we will question them about a song and ask them to remove it, but if they can demonstrate a godly filter, we let quite a bit slide.  There have been times we’ve had to step in and PROTECT our kids from others and from themselves.  (Once I had to ask a stranger to STOP CALLING my daughter. She had given her number to a friend who’d passed it on to someone else. It was bothering her AND me. We turned it into a teachable moment to remind our kids to use caution when handing out your number to others and to remind their friends NOT to give out their number without permission. Another time, I asked another student to stop calling so late [after 9 on a school night] & explained what our rules were)  Other boundaries: Currently, we do NOT allow cell phone usage during dinner, after 9pm on weeknights/11pm weekends, or during any ‘family experience’ (outings or movies, etc.).    Consequences: We also allow our kids to manage their own ‘account’, but they’re still attached to our family plan.  For example, if they go over on their media usage, the penalty will come out of their allowance.  They’ve only made that mistake ONCE. This creates responsibility.  We have found that even the THREAT of taking their phone for a week is the biggest punishment they can endure. (it’s like the “old school days” of getting GROUNDED because it shuts them out from their world)  It makes for a great motivator!

3. The “matching” plan. For awhile, we had our kids spend as much time IN THE BIBLE as they did IN THE MEDIA.  We never had to worry about how much time they were spending on their phone this way. If they spent an hour on their phone, they spent an hour reading the Bible.  “But dad, my Bible is on my phone”, they’d say.  “Good point. Try the one that has pages you can turn”, I’d counter.  Ha! Can’t pull one over on me!

The key to remember is that EVERY family is different. Just find something you can manage and something that can work with you.  And most importantly, ALWAYS remember the formula for success with any household RULE:

RULES – RELATIONSHIP = Rebellion and Resentment

RULES + RELATIONSHIP = Reverence and Respect

The stronger your relationship is with your kids, the more fun you’ll have and the easier it will be.  The stronger your relationship, the more respect they’ll have for the freedoms you give and the way you coach them through life.

Good luck!


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