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Style Magazine

Technically Speaking

Sep 26, 2014 12:38PM ● By Jenn Thornton

When the parents of today were headstrong teens, few were anticipating technology’s global takeover.

Most parents struggle with finding a happy, healthy medium when it comes to teenagers and technology. It is, after all, something of a high-wire act—one with no net and a long way to fall. So, where to draw that murky line in the sand? Here, a local high school teacher, mother and student try to find the balance.

“When my kids first got  cell phones, they were obsessed; they never put them down,” admits an El Dorado Hills mom with two daughters—one still in high school. “But like anything, they became more of a novelty and, though they still use them, they were on to the next thing.” While technology is hardly a fad (not like, say, skinny jeans) there always seems to be another new social media site or gadget competing for our teens’ fickle attention. So in this case, rather than ban all devices from the house, Mom set fair rules around its use—in other words, apps are awesome, but family comes first. Or, as she puts it, “No technology during meals or family time.”

From an educational point of view, technology has clear advantages for teens: a broader research base and computer skills they can later apply in college and the workforce, for starters. Despite this, notes a teacher at Ponderosa High School, “some of the many benefits also can negatively impact students.” Academically, ramifications range from illegible handwriting to significantly poor spelling skills. More concerning, he adds, “I’ve noticed young adults do not appear to be as capable of managing themselves in a formal conversation nearly as well as they used to. Conversing is a learned skill, something they seem to have lost with all the texting, instant messaging, Facebooking, etc.” He also cites distraction and an inability to cope without technology as issues. “I have personally witnessed students fall apart over the loss of a phone, which should be considered a convenience rather than life support.”

But, as technology is here to stay, parents and educators alike are embracing it as a key learning tool when used appropriately, whether that means installing a password protected Internet connection or limiting access to certain websites and related strategies. Most crucially, suggests both the EDH mom and Pondo teacher, is to cultivate, encourage, and support teens’ outside interests, too.

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Crucial to the equation is parents’ own digital doings. When was the last time you were caught tech-tasking at the table, Mom? And Dad, do you have to check the scores during Uno? Model quiet time and not only will your kids see it’s possible to engage in tech-free activities and have fun, but you might even remember how much you once liked it. Welcome your teens’ participation or curiosity if offered. If not, take heart knowing that your parental example is teaching them how to connect in ways beyond the digital realm.

As for your teens’ technology habits, if their use is responsible and constructive, leverage it to bring your family together. Find a community volunteer project for your tribe, then enlist your teen to Instagram their benevolence. Lastly, consider setting out for a remote, cell-phone-free zone that allows teens to connect with their innate sense of discovery—and the wider world.