Advice for parents of constantly connected teenagers

  • By Andrea Brown Herald Writer
  • Monday, July 28, 2014 4:35pm
  • Life

Selfies. Tweeting. Texting. Sexting.

OMG!

Smartphones and social media make the teen years even more exciting — and treacherous.

There are benefits to having high-tech tools for the curiosity, challenges, angst and all that other stuff that happens between childhood and adulthood. But there are also pitfalls to social media, including cyberbullying, overuse and other destructive behavior.

An upcoming workshop can help people of all ages use these tools smarter. Hosted by SMAHRT, or Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team, at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, the three-day conference this week is for teens, parents, educators, health care providers, legal workers. Everyone.

It’s a way to connect with others the old-fashioned way: in person. The goal is to help minimize risks and maximize benefits of many aspects of social media. Topics range from cyberbullying to apps on birth control. There will also be panel discussions on using Fitbit activity trackers and iPad health screenings. The second day finishes up with an open discussion deemed, appropriately, “Appy Hour.”

Parents have been trying to keep their kids safe from new technology for centuries. They dealt with the invention of the wheel, the record player, the telephone, TV.

“Technology is like a hammer,” said SMAHRT leader Dr. Megan Moreno. “You can use it to build a house and you can also get really seriously injured.”

Moreno is the author of “Sex, Drugs ‘n Facebook: A Parent’s Toolkit for Promoting Healthy Internet Use.” She said the line between offline and online is often not blurred enough.

“A lot of people behave online in ways they wouldn’t offline,” Moreno said. “They should act the same way. Everything is online now. We should treat them with the same level of respect and attention.”

Cyberbullying can have a worse impact than face-to-face bullying, she said. Teens often don’t grasp that messages and photos posted online are there forever — as in beyond high school — and for the world to see.

As Moreno put it: “Once it gets out there it’s like trying to gather feathers scattered in the wind.”

Sleep is another topic that will be covered. Media use can trump sleep, whether it’s to watch favorite shows or see what their peers might post about them.

“We hear in clinic about them sleeping with phones under their pillow so they don’t miss out on anyone saying anything good or bad about them,” Moreno said.

So what’s a parent to do, especially when kids are more tech savvy?

“Parents are still experts about parenting,” Moreno said. “Just because your kid knows about Tumblr and you don’t doesn’t mean you can’t make a rule about it.”

Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @reporterbrown.

2014 SMAHRT Conference

When: July 31-August 2

Where: Seattle Children’s Research Institute, 2001 8th Ave., Seattle.

Cost: $10 a day, includes breakfast and lunch.

Topics (the second and third days are geared for parents and teens): Day 1—Research, Content analysis, Regulatory policy; Day 2—Health, Depression, Substance use, Cyberbullying, Problematic Internet use, Improving fitness using social media; Day 3—The future role of social media in health and research, Patients and parents from Seattle Children’s Hospital discuss their experiences and ideas for shaping the future of social media in health.

For more information, go to http://smahrtresearch.com/conference/registration/ or Twitter: @SeattleChildren.

Tips on kids and social media

Follow the law

Most social media sites are allowed only for those at least 13. Don’t help your child falsify their identity. I can’t think of a situation in which this would help.

Evaluate sites

Join each site along with them, use the tools, fiddle with the privacy, and stay connected as long as your teen does. That way you can speak their “language” and keep up to date about changes and concerns you may have and changes or challenges your child may have.

Make rules and curfews

Consider a 9 p.m. bedtime for all digital devices so they don’t interfere with sleep and you can re-connect in real life at the end of the day. Commit to turning off phones during meals, and stashing them in the back seat when driving.

Check in

Does your child seem energized and excited when on Facebook? Or do they seem more withdrawn? Are they concerned about their numbers (followers)? Is it hard for your child to stay off these sites? Check in, adapt to your child’s experience and design your rules to support your family’s experiences and challenges.

Model good behavior

Turn your phone off during dinner. Put your phone “to bed” before you go to sleep. Take holidays from your devices whenever you can.

Don’t focus on punishment

Instead focus on talking about good citizenship, healthy behaviors, and rules that need to adapt or be altered as time unfolds and challenges present themselves.

Remember to live offline

However ridiculous that sounds, get outside every single day, leave the phone at home whenever possible, and remember to encourage your children to spend time in person “IRL” (in real life) with those they love.

Source: Blog by Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, Seattle Mama Doc. For more: seattlemamadoc.seattlechildrens.org

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