Technologically Connected to Our Teens

Two years ago my connection to the Internet consisted of emailing, shopping and browsing a few select websites. When I explored new mediums for my writing, my techy husband secretly reserved two domain names for me. Then he gifted them to me with his skills attached. Learning and using new media broke my steady climb toward feeling old before I was even 40. Since then, I’ve noted an unexpected byproduct of my active participation on the web. The Internet creates a good media connection between my teenage and pre-teen kids and me.

Keeps Me Conversant in Popular Culture. As we get older, popular music and cultural information become less important since we have less time to keep up with the trends. Teenagers, however, live in the world of trends. When we share popular website, video and article links with our kids we encourage conversation and show respect for their interests.  I’m horrible at choosing current music. Even after I registered on the Pandora music site, I needed help and turned to my 15-year-old daughter for music suggestions and the ins and outs of using Pandora. My 12-year-old son thrives on anything Lego. I mentioned that I saw a link for a Lego statue of Jesus built in Sweden. He Googled it and called me to the computer to view it with him.

Opens Doors to More Complex Conversations. Small talk about shared interests isn’t irrelevant; it builds bonds that lead to bigger conversations. When we start small with real stories or current examples around us, we can discuss the broader issues at hand. For example, viewing the pictures of the Lego statue started a discussion of what is reverent versus what is irreverent.  Before we saw it we thought the Lego statue would be a colorful, flashy image that wouldn’t respect deity. We didn’t expect the intricate, all-white Christus statue that reminded us of the reverent feelings we’ve had viewing another Christus statue. In a similar way, looking to my daughter for opinions on popular music makes us both more observant of what’s out there and evaluate it together.  We’ve watched American Idol as a family and discussed the positives and negatives of the whole image of a singer including what they wear and how they act. In a continuation of that ongoing conversation, I shared the link to the video of Susan Boyle’s performance on Britain’s Got Talent.  That brought out the complex realization that when we value physical appearances so much in our culture we often ignore the talent and hidden qualities of  some individuals.

Erases the Secrecy of Teen Socialization. A few months ago we gave our oldest daughter permission to join Facebook. Within weeks she had twice as many friends as I do, and that’s good for her to feel less isolated. Being friends on a social network with my daughter and many of her friends invites me into her social life in a unique way that parents of no other generation have had. If I’m careful about giving my daughter some distance to participate without my constant control, I’m able to guide and praise her developing social skills, which I always do in private. In that open communication, we can establish and maintain correct boundaries of private information versus public information on the Internet and monitor a whole range of other issues.  In that way, minor mistakes become teaching moments for later success rather than bad patterns of behavior.

Leads to Positive Leadership. After I started writing on my own website, I had to learn the lesson that it’s not all about me.  I’ve shared what I’ve learned with my daughter, who recently created and now administers a popular and growing Facebook group A Return to Virtue. In this forum  she and others are posting discussion questions about topics like what to do about swearing, finding modest prom dresses, strengthening our homes, getting out of sticky situations and living our commitments. What’s taking place is an inter-generational conversation about how we each can choose a moral life and support each other in the process. The web is the tool, but my daughter is the instrument for good.

Despite the negative effects the Internet can bring to our culture–idleness, immorality, greed–the digital age is not going away.  “Connected for Good” is the slogan of my alma mater’s alumni association. With the ever-growing networking connections we make on the Internet, this slogan also defines a future goal for how families can use this medium. We can connect with our teens and technology for good.

Want to learn more about positive uses of technology and media with youth? I like the website LDS Media Talk.

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2 Comments

  1. DO
    Apr 17, 2009

    I agree with everything that you said, but I have discovered an unexpected drawback. The internet will suck your life away. About 8 years ago I was noticing that I was allowing the internet to overrun my life. Every extra second I had, I just started browsing. Gradually, it became more and more difficult to stop “browsing” and start working. My work and home productivity was dropping dramatically. I tried to tell myself to stop, but I was being sucked into an internet stupor. About 6 years ago I made a commitment that unless it was absolutely necessary, when I was at home, I would not even sit in front of a computer. At work I still take a few minutes everyday to facebook and browse a little, but at home, I will not even check my email (which has frustrated some). I have noticed that I am MUCH happier, much more productive, and much less irritable. It’s a commitment I plan on keeping for the rest of my life. (but that iphone sure has thrown a kink in the system!)

    As a result, I am super sensitive to the amount of time my kids spend on facebook and email. It’s just too easy to let it take over all your free time.

  2. TJ
    Apr 17, 2009

    DO –
    You make a good point on the other side. In the past few weeks I read many articles about this very challenge you speak of and have had private conversations with some who choose not to participate at all. I guess it’s probably like when the television was invented. The television itself wasn’t evil but it can also suck our time. Similarly, we are going to each have to come to terms with our own way of disciplining ourselves and choosing how to spend our time wisely. And that is a whole other post to write about how to teach that to ourselves and to our children. Our family is practicing that balance, and I’m glad my children are learning how to safely navigate that issue while they are still at home. There’s some excellent articles out there on this subject. On the web of course. Anyone have some good links for those?

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