John Townsend, Ph.D.

Your teen has grown up in a highly sophisticated media world, where she has access to friends and information of all kinds, and at all times. The nature of social and electronic media is going to continue moving ahead as technology grows, and that horse is not coming back into the barn! Engaged parents often are concerned about the effect of media of all types on their kids, and they should be. At the same time, there are ways to help your teen to use media in ways that help them with their own growth and development. Here are some tips:

Remember your role as the parent of a teen. You are raising a person who is almost out of the oven. He isn’t a primary school kid, and within a few years he will be out of the house, on his way to college or some work context. So the goal of parenting a teen involves a balance of keeping him safe from toxic influences, while at the same time “launching” him into autonomy, adulthood and his own path. So watch the tendency to be a helicopter parent where you can supervise every minute of his life. It doesn’t help him or you.

Deal with the content of the media. Look at media as fundamentally an information delivery system. It gives your teen information through any combination of words, photos, videos and sounds. There are three types of information: healthy, entertaining and toxic. You want your teen to have healthy information for sure: good educational content, self-development, helpful news, etc. You want him to have a certain amount of entertainment, as we all need a bit of that: movies, games, shows that aren’t dark and crazy. You want to really limit the toxic information: anti-life messages, sexual content, pro-drugs material, and so forth. So determine as a parent, with your teen’s input, what your home balance is: lots of the first, some of the second and none of the third. You want a porn-free, drug-free home, for example. And use all the good technological protections about this. In our home, we used both software and hardware settings for these. When the boys on our sons’ football teams came over to study, they would say, “Mr. Townsend, we can’t get on the sites we like in your house.” And I would say, “That’s the idea!”

Deal with the amount of media. Facebook, Instagram and all the others are fun and exciting, but they can drop your teen into a black hole of empty useless calories! Just like you did with television (hopefully), limit the amount of these. Fill up their time with what they need to do: school, homework, jobs, home chores, church, sports, art, student government, and the like. Then, of the leftover time, they can have some of that to engage in media. But life has to come before media. A CEO in my leadership coaching program has established “Pixel Free Times” with his family, so that they live and connect without it!

Face to face first, media connections second. Texting is fine, but don’t let it substitute for face to face relationships. We have a tradition with our family. At home meals or out to dinner with friends, we create a cellphone tower in the middle of the table. Everyone has to stack their phones on top of each other, on “mute.” And then you have to look at each other and…talk! And it works great.

Be a parent who supports engaging in life and growth with your teen. But be vigilant that her life has lots of “Pixel Free” times.

Best to you.