Teenage girl taking selfie – Talking to your teenager about what they’ve seen online or in the media

Adventures in cyberspace – a game the whole family can play

Planning ahead to manage risks and embracing new ways to be creative is something parents and kids can do together.

This week, an Australian teenager with more than 612,000 Instagram followers made worldwide headlines when she announced she was quitting the platform, describing it as “contrived perfection made to get attention”. Perhaps we are seeing the development of a more sophisticated relationship with cyberspace on the part of today’s teenagers – particularly as she went on to announce the launch of her own website!

Cyberspace offers terrific opportunities together with risks. The media tends to highlight the risks of encountering cyber bullies, paedophiles, scammers and identity thieves. However, it does appear that the web, or some next generation platform, is here to stay and we had better work out how to use it to enhance our lives and those of our children.

Many parents feel that the genie is out of the bottle and it’s all out of control. Mobile devices mean their children can be interacting with almost anyone, anywhere, at any time and parents feel powerless to monitor it, let alone manage it.

So what’s new?

But it isn’t really about the technology. There has always been new technology – it’s just that now it’s happening faster, at a pace that is breathtaking. This means that parents need to reflect carefully on what strategies they have available that will help them help their teenagers become successful, informed consumers in a digital world. These are exciting times and parents and teenagers can work together to take advantage of them while protecting against the risks.

In years gone by, the social world didn’t change very much and the rules were handed down from one generation to the next with some confidence. Some would say that all this changed in the 1960s, and since then the pace of change has been accelerating.

Adults and teenagers both offer unique perspectives

What do parents have to offer their children today? A long-term view of how to plan for life that goes beyond tomorrow. New advances in brain research clearly show that the teenage brain is not fully mature until the early- to mid-20s. What do teenagers have to offer their parents today? Excitement about and engagement with new technologies.

What about the negatives each partner brings to the table? Parents tend to be over-protective and may fall back on just saying “No” without a realistic assessment of the risks. Teenagers tend to be naïve about the risks and often believe “that will never happen to me”.

This is where regular dialogue and open communication become critical. There used to be a time, not yet completely vanished, where conversations would focus on what we heard on the radio, read in the newspaper or saw on TV. Now, the conversations should include “what did you find on the web today?’

These conversations need to be frequent, brief and relaxed. They should aim to assist parents and teenagers to learn together – to identify and try out exciting new apps, websites, and downloads in a spirit of mutual curiosity and learning. Depending on their age and degree of maturity, teenagers may require parents to set some restrictions and limits on access, but these should be negotiated as temporary measures and relaxed or revised over time.  

Planning ahead together to guard against known risks is important. But so is jointly exploring exciting new possibilities. Let’s not forget the positives!