Guiding our children in the digital age is probably one of the biggest challenges we face as parents.

Digital world

One report found that teenagers use 6.5 hours or more of screen media per day!

That’s a lot of time with a very powerful medium. What’s a parent to do? Especially when teenagers are very capable of outwitting their parents’ efforts to be informed and involved.

As much as we want to protect our children and severely restrict access, we know that keeping them under lock and key will not prepare them for the digital world we live in.

So where’s the happy middle ground? How do we stay informed and involved in the digital lives of our children in a way that prepares them to be responsible about their use of media?

Here are 5 tips

1) Focus on Preparing Your Teen for Adulthood

The job of parenting during the teen years is to prepare our children for adulthood. It’s a subtle shift that can be difficult. In the younger years, our job is to protect our children and provide for their needs. As they mature through the teen years, our children need to learn how to establish their own guidelines and provide for themselves.

This means that our greatest return on investment as parents is to continually shift our thinking toward what would best prepare our children to live responsibly and compassionately as adults.

Teenagers still need boundaries and consequences. However, the more they can be included in the process, the better prepared they are to regulate themselves as adults.

A great question to continually ask ourselves as we interact with our teenagers is, “how is this preparing them for adulthood?”

2) Establish Your Own Personal Guidelines for Use of Media

Our biggest message as parents is our example, not our words. Whether you realize it or not, your teenagers are watching and following your actions and behaviors. If you are telling your children to put their devices away while using your own, the message is confused.

Think through what it means to use media responsibly as an adult. When is it appropriate and responsible to use media? Where is it polite to be on a device? How much media use is healthy?

Begin to establish guidelines for yourself to abide by for your own health, the health of your family and as an example for your children.

When your children see you putting your phone away during dinner or turning it off before a conversation, they will notice and understand the importance of what you say about appropriate media consumption.

3) Stay Informed and Aware in Order to Communicate Effectively

As your parenting goal shifts toward preparing your children for adulthood, your focus should move from protecting your teens from every bad thing they can find online to making their own responsible choices about what they do online.

This does not mean giving them complete freedom without boundaries. It does mean recognizing that no matter how hard you try to protect your teen from inappropriate content, they will not necessarily be fully protected.

So, it’s important to stay informed and aware of what your teens are doing  (see link and link) in order to understand their interests, activities and mindset.

Respectfully gaining this knowledge will help you know how to approach effective communication with your teenager in a way that prepares them for their growing freedom.

4) Communicate Effectively

The most important thing parents can do is to keep open and respectful lines of communication with their teenagers. One way communication will not work. Teens learn and mature best when they are able to open up and share their thoughts and feelings about things.

Give plenty of opportunity for conversation. Suspend judgment and listen, asking questions about what they are thinking and how they arrived at the thoughts and ideas they have.

For more detail on how to communicate well, see 10 Ways to Increase Communication.

5) Set Boundaries

Teenagers are not adults yet. They are in training. They need boundaries that prepare them as their thinking matures and their world expands.

How to Positively Discipline your Teenager will help you know how to work with your teen to set up boundaries.

Some other ideas are to 1) have a basket where you collect phones during mealtimes and at bedtime so they are not distractions from conversation and sleep; 2) keep computers and screens out of private rooms so your teen knows that you can see what they are doing at any time; 3) consider the type of phone you allow your teen to have; 4) check out this great resource for understanding your teen and screens more fully.

We live in the digital age. Our children have and will continue to have digital lives. The best thing we can do as parents is to stay involved in order to prepare them to be responsible about their use of digital media.