Thoughts from the Therapy Chair with Joe Martino: Technology and Kids

Do you feel like it’s impossible to keep up with technology and your kids today? You’re not alone.

Most parents report feeling overwhelmed when it comes to how they navigate their children’s use of technology.

To complicate matters a bit more, we have many fear-based arguments making the rounds of all the places we want to go to find resources.

And, of course, there is the fear. You know, the fear that comes with being a parent. Fear that we will mess our children up in ways they will resent for all of their adult lives. Fear that something will happen that we could have prevented, that we should have prevented.

There is so much information and misinformation out there that it is almost anti-educational for our loved ones and for us.

For instance, in the state of Michigan, two sixteen-year old’s could be in the same room engaging in consensual, personal, and intimate acts, and it’s legal. Those same two individuals could walk around in less than dress uniform, and that also is legal. If one of those two individuals snaps a picture of the said less than dress uniform and sends it to the other? Well, that could be prosecuted as distribution of child pornography (full disclosure I am neither a law enforcement officer nor am I an expert in the law). The point of this piece isn’t to talk about the law or the congruency of it, rather discuss how that can be confusing to a teenager and is a possibility for them to do something that will change the course of their life forever.

We all hear about predators online surfing the internet looking for opportunities to do harm to our children.

Many people worry (in my opinion, rightfully so) about their children being exposed to pornography or other nefarious possibilities of the internet.

Let’s go over a few common questions that counselors answer.

  1. How do I know that my children are doing online? The simple and not so simple answer is to be proactive. Look on your kid’s phone regularly and randomly. If they have a passcode, you should know that passcode and the ability to log into the phone at any time. Expect pushback and resistance. Don’t let that deter you.
  2. How do I keep up with everything that is coming out? Do research. Check your account for app purchases. When you see an app you don’t recognize, do some online research. I have my kid’s phones set up with my same ID account, so I get notified when purchases are made. When you examine your kid’s phone, open the apps and look through them.
  3. How do I protect my kids and help them understand how technology will be a part of our future lives? Talk to them. Talk to them early and often. I often recommend that parents talk first and talk often.
  4. What is the correlation between relationships and smartphone technology? The short answer is that phones provide a relationship to many users. They provide us access to other people’s lives that we would miss without them. In extreme use cases, many people can actually develop a relationship with the phone or device itself. This can often be the best opportunity for parents to have conversations and interactions with their children.
  5. How do I navigate the different stages of my child’s development? This is a great question that can have multiple layers to it. Obviously, we want our teenagers to have different interactions than our younger children. Age-appropriate guidelines are necessary.
  6. Are my kids frying their brains? Did you know that at one time, you could have been admitted to a mental hospital for reading too many novels? Why? Because it was feared that novels would change your brain. Radios in cars were once feared. Why? Because it was feared that it would change your brain. Televisions in the living room were once feared. Why? You guessed it; fear that watching TV will change your brain. The problem with these arguments is that everything we do, literally everything, can and often does change our brain.
  7. How do I start conversations with my kids about technology?

This is, of course, the ultimate question. Let’s look at a few points that can guide us.

  • Speak first. Speak often. I mentioned this earlier in this piece. Be the one to initiate conversations with your kids. Even if you’re greeted with silence or outright hostilities, come back to the discussion.
  • Be safe. If you ask your kids a question, and the answer is something you don’t like or wish they hadn’t done, make sure your response conveys safety. You should still share your values and your opinion, and it needs to be done in a way that fosters the reality that your kids can come to you with any topic.
  • Less severe, more repeatable. Utilize consequences that are less severe and therefore more repeatable. Severe and intense consequences rarely work. They almost always bring a higher price than they do a return. Repeatable consequences tend to work much better, and they allow you to utilize a gentle approach.
  • Don’t focus on the device or technology; instead, focus on the relationship. This one can be hard, but the device and the technology are just symptoms. They are not the problem, nor are they the solution. By focusing on the relationship, you can deal with both the problem and the person.
  • Consistency wins. Be consistent. Be consistent in your approach. Be consistent in your own use of technology. Be consistent in how you engage the conversation. Be consistent in monitoring phone usage. Be consistent in avoiding the temptation of making the technology into being the bad guy.
  • Build Emotional Security. ES is knowing that it is safe to know and be known. Make building ES your goal in every interaction and intervention with your kids.

Most importantly, remember the most significant influence in your kid’s life is you. You can do this.

Joe Martino is a counselor with Joe Martino Counseling Network.  He has locations in Lowell, Grand Rapids, Greenville, and Grandville.  For more information about Joe and his business, check their website or Facebook page.  He and the rest of the counselors and staff are eager to help those in need.

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