The use of various forms of technology has become a common part of everyday life for young people. Technology is essential in improving academic skills, cognitive capacity, to equip them with skills for future career opportunities, and to connect and communicate with friends and peers.
At the onset of puberty and throughout the ensuing years, adolescents start to move towards peers and friends, and away from their parents as they assert their independence, autonomy, and develop their identity. During this time young people tend to communicate less with adults, and connect through technology with friends and peers. Many young adolescents take great pride in their self-reported high levels of technoliteracy, and discuss how the various forms of technology assist them in communication and the development of relationships.
The increased connection with peers through technology often stems from the myriad of changes that are occurring in a physiological and emotional sense. Most adolescents are very focused on themselves and what others think of them, have a need for more privacy, become increasingly irritable and rude with parents, and generally experience heightened levels of reactivity and emotional intensity. It can also lead to unsafe behaviour because there can be impacts on self-esteem and self-confidence which can lead to anxiety, and decisions are often made based on social pressures and emotions.
At the very time in their lives that most adolescents require wise counsel from their parents, they are seeking it through peers, and often online. This often leads to many parents feeling frustrated or concerned, left wondering how we continue to connect and communicate with our developing adolescents, while having the opportunity to keep them safe.
Although technology has its dangers, like most areas of our lives if not handled correctly, it can serve as the ideal way to stay connected, and to provide a safety net for vulnerable young people. While adolescents are in a stage of life where they are focused on developing their identity, their place in the world, and navigating how the world functions, they often find comfort in the power of technology as a way to help them with this. For parents, this provides a significant opportunity to connect through the language of tech, and to connect with adolescents at their level, and in their place of comfort and competence.
Technology is a staple in the lives of many young people and it is not going away because these technologies provide the opportunity for social interaction, communication, and the development of intimacy. So, we as parents need to find ways to ease our own fears and anxieties, and embrace ways that we can develop the same confidence, comfort and competence levels to meet the needs of our children in a different way.
There is much to fear about the online world such as cyberbullying, inappropriate content, exposure to violence, addiction and reliance, and sleep disturbance, among others. However, many of these fears exist in the ‘real’ world, but we have learned ways to deal with them, educate ourselves and our children about the dangers, and feel some sense of control and competence in staying safe. The same thought processes apply for the virtual world. We cannot make it go away, so we find ways to work with it.
Furthermore, recent studies have found that when adolescents feel a sense of autonomy over their tech use, but still feel safe and connected to their parents, many young people utilise technologies as supportive coping strategies to ease feelings of worry, fear, irritability and anger that are created by stressful and challenging life circumstances. Adolescents speak regularly about the importance of relational communication with friends and family, this often supports positive psychosocial development. When mirrored through the use of technology there is a certain consistency and constancy of communication that supports the overwhelming desire for close relational connection.
Adolescence is a time that is characterised by an increased reliance on peer connection and identification, and the formation of friendships. This often results in a decrease in the connection and communications related to parental involvement. However, as identified by developmental and behavioural researchers, adolescents crave a close connection with a small but significant number of trusted adults in their life. Although the human connection is essential to our being as humans, parents can also look to stay connected to their child through the use of appropriate and supportive technologies, while still keeping their number one priority safe and sound.
Here are 4 opportunities parents can create to connect with their children and keep them safe online:
- Learn the language that adolescents use online. It will help to build understanding, and to assist in recognising when there may be a concern or danger.
- Learn about the uses of different types of social media - Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat etc. - by talking to your son or daughter.
- Spend time to establish forms of communication that your son/daughter can use to connect with you that establish a feeling of empowerment and autonomy. Eg. WhatsApp, Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, etc.
- Share your concerns, and hopes for different forms of communication and connection. Let your child know that you want to be there to support them and keep them safe, and that you need them to help you learn with them.
- Fitton, V. A., Ahmedani, B. K., Harold, R. D., & Shifflet, E. D. (2013). The role of technology on young adolescent development: Implications for policy, research and practice. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 30(5), 399-413.
- Steinberg, L., & Morris, A. S. (2001). Adolescent development. Annual review of psychology, 52(1), 83-110.
- Wood, C. (2007). Yardsticks: Children in the classroom, ages 4-14 (p. 240). Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.
- Dr Josh Symes