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5 Ways to Use Technology with Your Teenager

I’m not going to give you a bunch of statistics about how much we’re on our phones, tablets, and computers, because we already know it’s a lot—probably (definitely) too much. But here’s the deal—those numbers aren’t really changing. People (kids, teens, and adults) gravitate toward technology because technology makes life easier. I mean, isn’t that the whole point of it?

We already know that we’re living in a crisis of disconnection. Our kids have their faces smashed against a screen for the better part of their day. What hasn’t helped is a global pandemic that’s had us sitting at home. And the only way to communicate with a human outside of our four walls? That’s right—technology.
See, technology can’t be completely evil. It’s the only way many of us have been able to work, to see family and friends. It’s the only way many of us have maintained a modicum of sanity during quarantine.

So, what are we to do? Is technology destroying our society? Inhibiting our kids’ ability to carry on a multi-sentence conversation? Are we raising tiny little robots who will one day grow up to only communicate in grunts and emojis?
I don’t think so. Here’s what I think. 
There are ways to use technology with your kid that enhance meaningful connections instead of replacing them.  Here are a few ideas:
Have a family account together.
Let’s talk TikTok. Go ahead and slay that giant together from the jump. 
If you’re not familiar with TikTok, it’s basically a teenager’s paradise. It combines social media and music on one platform where kids can have fun creating content and interacting with friends.

My middle schooler is a TikTok QUEEN. And if she had it her way, she would only speak via TikTok dances (with me serving as interpreter, obviously). And here’s how we’ve made that a safe space for us to be together:
  • We share an account. I have the password, she does not. 
  • We have a private account, and only people we actually know can follow it. 
  • We’re limited to 30 minutes of TikTok per day with the app’s Time Management option. 
  • Our account is in “Restricted Mode” at all times to avoid mature content or language. 
  • We’ve got a fast and hard no booty-shaking rule. 
Now, my kid did not get the TikTok gene from me. I’m shockingly terrible at the intricate dances. But we’ve had SO. MUCH. FUN. practicing them together. It also gives us something to talk about. She’ll show me a funny video and we’ll watch it 100 times and laugh and laugh.
I’ll also never forget during the 2020 Presidential Election how many times she’d bring me the phone and say, “Watch this video. Is that true?” TikTok (technology) opened the door to many important conversations between us about media versus truth and fact-checking. 
Share a meme a day.
I share at least one meme a day with my middle schooler. And, about 6 out of 10 times, she even thinks they’re funny. If I’m lucky, she’ll share one right back. We’ve got tons of inside jokes about memes that we’ve shared. 
Text Threads FTW.
Look, I’m not trying to chat it up with middle schoolers all day long. I’ve got a job. And two other children. But over the last year, I was somehow added to a text thread among myself, my daughter, and her two best friends. These are her two homies who are at my house most evenings. And I’ve got to tell you, it’s a pretty entertaining thread. It helps me in planning, because they’ll always use that thread for making plans to hang out. It also helps me keep a finger on the pulse of her two closest relationships outside of my house. If the thread goes quiet for a few days . . . I (casually) ask questions. 
Game together. 
I grew up with a classic Nintendo. I watched my dad and brother stay up all night once to beat The Legend of Zelda. I have three girls, but that doesn’t mean my video game days are behind me. I got a used Wii off Facebook Marketplace and we bowl, play tennis, and throw bananas at each-others’ cars—all while sitting in our pajamas at home. I have a three-year-old. Turn off her remote and hand it to her? She thinks she’s playing too. It’s a winner from preschool-preteen in my house. 
Binge-watch together.
It may be surprising to hear that televisions and streaming services fall under technology. They do! My middle schooler is randomly obsessed with Dance Moms. So, I learned to love Dance Moms. Every Saturday morning, she trods downstairs and turns it on for us to watch together. We have to get at least one episode in, even it means her playing it from my phone in the car—she watches, I listen. (I am very emotionally invested in the show now. Oh! And in my kid too!) 
Technology can be scary. It can also be incredibly dangerous. And don’t think it’s been digital sunshine and rainbows over here. My middle schooler lost her phone for six weeks when she broke a technology-related rule. 
And, yes, it takes a ton of planning, programming, and vigilance to make technology safe for my kids, but it’s worth it. It’s worth it because I know that as she gets older, my influence will decrease. She will be at friends’ houses, at parties, at football games, on dates . . . all without me. I can’t hover over her until she’s eighteen. Well, I could, but she’d resent me for it. 
The best thing we can do as parents is teach our kids how to be responsible and honest with technology. Otherwise, when they’re confronted with images, sites, and apps outside of our home, they may not know how to handle it.