Parenting Teens in a Technological World – Be Where They Are
by Chris Sasser

If I had to guess, parenting teenagers has likely always been hard. It’s a time of life when so many things are changing, and these emerging adults are trying to figure out who they are and how they fit in the world. Along the journey of parenting teenagers, there have always been issues to face, problems to solve, and decisions to make. But you and I live in a time when it seems like things might be a little more layered and complex. We get to live in a world where we not only have all the “normal” teenage stuff to deal with, but we get to add in all the things that revolve around technology and social media. Isn’t that fun? We have to decide things like when (or if) our teens get a phone. I’m going to assume that most of you have already landed on the fact that it’s hard to totally avoid providing a device for your teenager. It seems like the smartphone has become a necessary tool for them to have as they learn to live and thrive in the world.


After they have a phone, the next questions that emerge revolve around social media. When should your teen be able to jump on that train? Which platforms are appropriate? How much time should they be able to spend scrolling and messaging and Tiktok-ing (if that’s a phrase)? These are all decisions that you have either already had to make, or they will be coming soon. These questions swirl in “parent world” all the time, and they don’t always have clear answers. The one advice I would give is this: wait as long as you can. Delay, delay, delay. The longer you can keep your kids away from both the tie to a device and the pressure of social media, the better. Give their brains as much time as you can to develop before they go down the track of being tethered to a device. It’s just healthier.


Once your teens have stepped into the world of social media, I do have an encouragement for you. Do your best to understand and be on the apps and social networks that your teens are on. Be where they are. This may seem like a lot of work and effort, and it is. Keeping up with all the latest trends in technology can be exhausting. But I would ask you to consider the alternative. Not being where they are means that your teenager is immersed in a world that is foreign to you, and you lose the ability to understand what is forming and shaping them. And make no mistake, once they are on any type of social media, they are being formed and shaped, and they will become immersed in it. You can definitely create boundaries that will limit their time on a particular app or device. But even when they can’t be on their device, they will likely be around friends who will have fewer limits and your teen will still have a window into what is happening in the social digital world. If you take the time and make an effort to be on these platforms yourself, you will have a better picture of the types of ideas and content that your teenager is consuming. Follow your teens and see what they and their friends post and how they all respond. You don’t have to be creepy and get involved in the conversations, but you’d be amazed at what you can learn by just watching the online interactions. Again, just be where they are. You may back off this concept as they get into their older teen years. When they initially step into this world, I would highly recommend that you be in this world with them instead of letting them swim in it on their own.


As you spend time understanding the digital world your teens live in, you’ll begin to notice that it’s slightly different than the digital world you live in. Sure, there are apps and networks that you both may use, but teens often navigate these apps in different ways. If you jump on networks that you have never used (and don’t intend to use much), you will learn that your teenagers have a different experience than you do. As you learn more about both their experience and the types of things they are paying attention to, figure out ways to have conversations with your teens about what you observe. I’m not suggesting that you interrogate them, put them on the spot, or badmouth the way they use technology. I’ve gone down that road before, and it does not work. Be curious. Ask, “What do you think about ________?” questions. Continue building a relationship with your teenager that fosters good, healthy conversations that help them discover more about the world and the way God wants them to interact with it. We can use the technology we have as a tool to help us build the strong and healthy relationships that we all crave. Create a culture of conversation in your home and use the abundant content we are all consuming as a springboard to formation and growth.


In the fast-paced world we live in, technology is more and more at the center of what we see, think, and do. We have to pay attention to both how we understand our role in the digital landscape and how we guide our teens through it all in a healthy way. They are being shaped and developed by the technological culture they live in, so do everything you can to guide them and lead them in the direction you want them to go. You’ll be glad you did.