Ana Homayoun is a teen expert and educational consultant. I first became a fan when I read That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week: Helping Disorganized and Distracted Boys Succeed in School and Life (she’s also got a book about The Myth of the Perfect Girl). So imagine my giddiness when Social Media Wellness: Helping Tweens and Teens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World came on the scene this year.

We have all heard the ills of technology use with our children, and the conversation tends to turn negative when discussing teens on social media. However, if you begin to tackle your teen’s technology use with some proactive steps, you may find yourself feeling much more confident about engaging with them – and their phone.

Homayoun is the most positive and practical person I’ve read who is “spot on” in teaching this topic. Consider the following ideas as you make a better plan for your teen’s technology use.girl sleeping with phone

Check your tone – and ask open-ended questions.

“Stop texting Alex! It’s 9 o’clock! Homework needs to happen now!” may be one phrase you’ve recently uttered. But instead of your teen getting right to work, I’m guessing the situation continued to escalate, and everyone ended the evening on a sour note.

As difficult as it may be, consider asking open-ended (non-confrontational) questions in a calm voice tone when you notice your teen is getting a bit too involved in their phone – and redirect as necessary.

Dad: “It looks like you’re involved in a pretty intense conversation.”
Teen: “Yeah.”
Dad: “How are you feeling about it right now?”
Teen: “Um…fine.”
Dad: “Ok. I noticed it’s getting late. What things do you need to do yet to be prepared for tomorrow?”
Teen: “Homework.”
Dad: “How can I help you finish your text conversation and start homework?”
Teen: “Just a couple more minutes and then I’ll get started.”

Not only did that verbal exchange validate their teen’s current situation (and check to see if there were any heavy emotions related to it – this teen may or may not just be “fine”), but it helped direct away from technology and get to the task of homework. Consider rethinking your demands to get to work, and validate your teen where they are in the moment. An extra 30 seconds of conversation may save you from a 30-minute gridlock.

Model healthy screen behavior.

Make evening time screen-free as much as possible. This will likely improve the quality of everyone’s evening. And no phones allowed in the kid or adult bedrooms! (It’s good for your marriage too.)

Also, one thing I am personally working on: looking my child in the eyes when we are talking to one another, instead of only listening while I continue to stare at my screen. I remember reading somewhere that our children are building positive social behaviors when they look us in the eyes while speaking.

Agree upon tech use rules.

Have you heard of a family technology contract? This is an easy way to have an age-appropriate conversation in your home about the expectations of how the child will handle online use. I love these contracts because they are not a list of rules for kids. There are agreements for both children and parents, like “My family agrees to talk with me about what worries them and why, before saying ‘no.’”

Common Sense Media is a nonprofit that provides unbiased advice about apps, TV shows, movies, etc. And they are a great place to start with their “Family Media Agreement and Device Contract.” (It’s totally free to sign up as a user on their site – and well worth your time.)

Parents get 24-hour access. 

It blows my mind how many parents of high school students never check their child’s phone. (Reality check: your child is likely both absorbing and posting harmful things). You pay for the phone line or Internet access at home, so you are entitled to the content on that phone. (And no, your child is not the “only one” whose parent checks her phone.) You should know how the apps your child uses function, and you should have passwords to all their accounts.

This doesn’t mean you should take your child’s phone away and snoop whenever you want. Rather, it’s for their own safety – sometimes from online predators, but more likely: safety from them posting inappropriate content that could harm themselves. I think back to a recommendation I was given a number of years ago: If you don’t want your grandma to see it, don’t post it. If your kids know you can view anything at any time, they’ll likely follow the same rule.

This is just a start to making a better plan for your teen’s technology use. It will take time and effort to get on the same page as a family in regards to guidelines around technology use in your family, but being passive with your child’s online use is no longer a viable option.