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Developing Healthy Relationships with Technology

By Ethan Weiss, Sponsored By, Herrera Psychology

Watching my son eyeing a piece of candy when he thinks no one’s watching is a masterclass in human nature. He closes one eye, his tongue pokes out from the corner of his mouth, his hand walks itself carefully across the table on tiny, pudgy fingers. Then he pauses...looks over his shoulder...looks back...licks his lips…then, quickly, he snatches it and shoves it in his mouth. True, he’s 4—but that struggle against immediate gratification never really goes away. That’s especially true in these times, with the world literally at our fingertips.

Developing healthy digital relationships and working with our kids to think about their relationship to technology is now as critical to successfully navigating our culture as teaching them to brush their teeth. Unfortunately, pairing instant communication and access to nearly endless amounts of mindless content with the developing prefrontal cortex (the wrinkly gray bit in the brain that deals with impulse control and critical thinking) is a recipe for absolute disaster.

One out of five teens reports that they have electronically sent or posted nude or seminude pictures or videos of themselves online, according to a recent survey from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Anyone’s stomach would drop thinking about this statistic and the fact that an estimated 90 to 95% of school kids carry cell phones. Additionally, the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that nationwide, about 21% of students ages 12-18 experienced bullying, which can lead to risky behaviors, become the reaction to them, or usually both.

There’s no denying this issue feels overwhelming. It can be difficult to enforce digital boundaries with our kids and nearly impossible for us to stay on top of the changes in the legal world. But, as my grandpa used to say: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite a time…” It is possible for kids to improve their relationships with technology. Keep reading for some techniques to help.

Ways to Improve Your Kid’s Relationship with Technology

Be Direct, Open, and Honest

Kids should know where their parents stand on technology usage and what it means to have a healthy relationship with technology by the time they get their first device.

Use personal stories of your own experiences or actual incidences where technology did more harm than good that your youth can relate to.

Validate and Acknowledge the Reality of the Challenge

Technology can be a double-edged sword—It allows us to stay connected and participate with our community and peers, but it can also be dangerous if not used wisely.

Your teen will want to feel connected with their friends, so they may not appreciate the boundaries and they may find them unfair. Remember to validate and acknowledge their reality. Technology ground rules may seem difficult at first and take some time to get used to, but they will be beneficial in the long run.

Establish Ground Rules

Establish limits, parental controls, and systems that uphold your family values and that you can maintain even if your kid doesn’t agree. A big challenge we as parents face is wanting our kids to “get it” and understand why we have to limit the freedom they have at different developmental stages.

We don’t want to fall into the trap of only setting limits if our kids agree with those limits, or feel a certain way, which can lead to a lot of disappointment and frustration. If, on the other hand, we make our objective "I will state my values and expectations clearly and succinctly with compassion, respect, and love, and I will create clear boundaries that best set my kid up for success”—then we can still maintain parental control and we can step out of the interaction with a sense of accomplishment and effectiveness.

Keep Your Questions Open-Ended

Never underestimate the power of the open-ended question ("What do you think?” “How should they have handled it?” “How do you think you would feel in that situation”) and always respect that all kids have different tolerance levels for big, important conversations.

Some will be up for an hour of intense talk, others will be ready for one question or a comment a month. That’s why starting early is so helpful: it offers us a lot of runway.

Clarify the Consequences of Certain Digital Behaviors

Rather than “we need to talk about how sending or receiving naked pictures of someone underage is a felony”, try: “I just heard this thing on the news/from a friend/read about on the back of a cereal box…did you know that if a person…blah blah blah…isn’t that nuts? Do you think most people in your grade know that?”

By doing this, you align yourself with your kid (“we’re on the same team”) and avoid some of the resistance that crops up when they feel like they’re being lectured. Also, it’s refreshing to hear an authority figure admit they just learned something new or that they didn’t know something. It’s humanizing, which is important for them to see.

Model This in Our Own Lives

This is your chance to tell stories about how we passed along something we thought was true because we didn’t check and then found out it was misinformation. Or how we put something in a text we thought was funny but it was taken out of context or misunderstood and led to negative consequences. Or how an impulsive email was sent at work that led to a teammate losing out on an opportunity. Be honest about your technology usage, and how adults struggle to manage their phone time if they don’t learn boundaries.

Bottom Line

As parents, it’s important for us to validate our child’s experiences and set ourselves up for success in teaching them. Recognize that a kid’s temperament can have a significant impact on the way they communicate with you and with the world, but it’s important to have these conversations that lead to developing a healthy relationship with technology early in life.


Herrera Psychology

Springhill Park Center

2143 S. Tamiami Trail #43

(813) 395-9049


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