[Editor's note: All there is to say is, please pay attention, parents – these five points from Vanessa's interns are worth your consideration. They're borne out at my house, certainly.]
By Vanessa Van Petten
I recently sent the teen interns who advise and write for RadicalParenting.com (there are 120 of them ages 13-19) a question. I asked them what are the top 5 things they fight about with their parents. Amazingly, most of those arguments were about technology – fighting over cell phone bills, arguments over whether or not it was appropriate to listen to music while doing homework, debates about the safety of YouTube and Facebook. Technology is a huge issue for teens and parents today.
In my book, Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded?, I talk about how parents can help their teens balance online life and offline life – as well as how to leverage the benefits and avoid technology’s downsides. After the survey about the biggest fights, I asked my teens what they wish their parents knew about their use and love (and hate) of technology. Here is what they said:
* Technology is not a choice. Teenagers consistently told us that they have never known life without technology. Adults often have to be reminded that most of our teenagers were born the same year as YouTube. Teens want their parents to know that, for them, using technology for as much as they can is a default—the choice is in how they choose to use it.
* We want friends not strangers. Teens go online to be entertained and talk to friends. A very small minority of teens likes speaking with strangers. Stranger Danger is not nearly as serious as cyberbullying. Teens want their parents to ask more questions and be more concerned about online drama with friends and less about contacting strangers. [Editor breaking in, here: Shows how smart teens are – this is what the research shows too.]
* We overcome struggles every day. Teenagers are constantly being challenged with technology and making choices to keep themselves safe—even if they do not tell you about it. For example one teen wrote: “Today I got a spam message with porn. I didn’t open it because I saw right away it was spam, but it still made me uncomfortable. We get stuff like that every day or a mean text message. I don’t know if my mom knows how I deal with these every day. I am learning to stand up for myself online.” –Kerri, 14.
* We would love you to be our scapegoats. If you catch a teen in a moment of openness, they might tell you that, as much as they love their technology, they sometimes feel trapped by it—always having to check in and be online can be exhausting. I wrote a post about how parents can be a kid’s scapegoat and many of our teens referenced it when I asked them what they wish their parents knew about technology. All this involves is sitting down with your kids and telling them that if they ever need to get offline, unplug for the day or leave their phone at home they can always blame you. Sometimes the peer pressure to stay plugged in is tough, so if they know they can say, “Oh my mom made me turn it off last night,” it teaches them to slowly stand up for going offline.
* We can’t say no to finding out more about ourselves. This is a hard one – many teenagers said they try to avoid danger as much as their parents want them to … except in one area. Teens find it absolutely irresistible to find out more about themselves online. What I go into in my book is that teens explore their identity through profiles and keeping their cyber-reputation. Web sites like Formspring where teens can write anonymously about each other or the Honesty Box app in Facebook that does the same thing are upsettingly popular. This is a key area where teens need parental support. “I wish my parents would talk to me – not lecture me, about how to say no to Formspring. I am dying to know what people think of me but I know it is a bad idea.” –Travis, 16.
Vanessa Van Petten is creator of RadicalParenting.com, a parenting site written from teens’ perspective to help parents understand them. She is also the author of the just-published Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded? (Plume, 288pp.).