When kids enter their teenage years, their parents are forced to learn how to take a step back and let them begin to steer their own lives. Admittedly, this can be a little nerve-wracking — life is so fragile, and the teenage years are so formative and challenging. Technology isn’t what it used to be, and it’s hard to anticipate what’s healthy and what’s excessive in this digital era: Where is the balance? What is your child doing for so many hours on his or her laptop that was purchased primarily to help with schoolwork?
Sitting back and saying nothing might be your toughest challenge here. If you want to preserve your relationship with your teenager and not appear controlling, it’s helpful to gain some insight as to how teens operate nowadays and why.
Here are six ways teens manage technology, school and their social lives that may ease your mind (at least to a certain extent):
Even if it seems your teen is always on Twitter, Pinterest, or some other social media site, there’s no need to be alarmed. Especially if your teen is the shy type, social networking online opens up another line of communication for him or her — one that may be more comfortable than chatting on the phone or even text message. On such platforms, teens are able to explore different interests and become more involved and interactive with current issues. Plus, if they’ve connected with classmates online, they may feel more comfortable communicating in class.
Unless your teenager is enrolled in an assortment of computer and web-based classes, he or she is probably expected to learn vital technological skills on his or her own. Thus, all the time spent surfing the web or delving into various programs isn’t really just a waste of time: It’s time all teenagers spend in the development of their digital skills, which will likely be needed for the rest of their lives.
This comfort with technology that kids are developing early on makes them competitive in today’s job market. Even if teenagers were only using the internet to obsessively research every question they have about their favorite bands, the sheer act of scouring the web for information counts as exercising a skill that will come in handy in a wide range of professions.
Life isn’t a cakewalk for anyone. But especially for teens, it’s a newfound juggling act with new responsibilities and fundamental personal development (i.e. the establishment of a sense of identity, social skills, likes and dislikes, etc.). The whole experience is a venture into the unknown and can result in an unimaginable amount of stress. Withdrawing into their social circles or the world of technology can be a saving grace for them providing temporary relief. (This is a fine balance for parents to keep an eye on – while occasionally withdrawing into an online world can be a great stress relief for some teens, it can become an obsession for others trying to avoid the real world.)
As a parent, you likely want to encourage your teenager to think outside the box. It’s been evident throughout history that those who stand out and make names for themselves have been innovators, individuals who have pursued their passions — not those who have been pressured into pursuing that which they felt lukewarm about. Not to say that your teen should be exempt from his or her traditional responsibilities, but rather that working on projects or tirelessly investigating topics with no obvious academic relevance might be behavior to nurture.
The subconscious mind functions the same way in regard to problem-solving, irrespective of age: When presented with a quandary, the subconscious mind will continue to work on finding a solution, even when the conscious mind isn’t concentrated on it. A number of notable figures, including Thomas Edison, have reportedly turned to mindless activities when stumped by a problem, with the solution coming to them seemingly out of the blue. So the next time your teen seems to be procrastinating and engaging in some mind-numbing preoccupation while working on a paper, consider that doing so might just be a part of his or her natural or creative thought process.
All of this is not to say you should step back from parenting your child. Instead, you might consider encouraging your teenager to integrate technology, learning, and social skills even more than they already are.
One option to nurture this combination of lifeskills is to send your teen to summer camp, where teens not only bond with peers who share their interests, but also gain confidence and leadership skills. The takeaway from their camp experience will further benefit them when they return to school in the fall and understand how collaborating with their classmates on academic projects and putting their technological skills to good use don’t need to be mutually exclusive.