How to Have "The Tech Talk" (minus the arguing!)

Article by Jamie Rhiannon Fehribach, MSc., Social Media Coordinator

Technology has taken leaps in the past decades in terms of advancement. We see this in the benefits it offers our expat daily lives - more safety, more security, more opportunities for entertainment. However, despite all the positives, technology has also created some disadvantages - especially in a social context. Social media can mean sharing ideas and connecting to others which is so important for expat communities scattered around the world, but it can also mean bullying as well as more widespread pressure for portraying perfection. For young teen minds, these negative situations can be difficult to navigate, and parents didn’t necessarily grow up having to navigate them themselves. So what can parents do to help their teens? Our newest team member at The Expat Kids Club, Deniz, took a look at some questions parents have about raising teens with tech.

My child has just turned 12 and is telling me all of her friends have social media. It feels a bit young to let her have an account already. At what age is it “ok” for a child to have a social media account or her own tech (like ipads or phones)?

Nearly 50% of children get their first smartphone between the ages of 10 and 12. It is true, though, that during this stage in development, kids are still gaining social-emotional and self-regulation skills. Mixing underdeveloped skills and lots of opportunity for tough situations can have both positive and negative outcomes - kids get the chance to learn a lot about their world, but of course can also face hurt in that world too. Level of maturity can play a role in when you decide your child is ready for social media or a phone of their own - there is no one right answer to this question!

Most social media sites allow someone to sign up if they are 13 or older. Many experts agree that this is also the appropriate age for a child to gain these privileges. It’s true, however, that kids begin signing up for some form of social media before this age. Our recommendation? Consider your own child’s social and self-regulation skills and decide if they are ready to begin using social media. And if they are younger than 13, consider limiting or monitoring their usage more than you would if they were older, so you can intervene and help with more difficult situations.

My expat teen says their social media use is necessary for them to stay connected to friends and not be out-paced by peers - As a parent, am I interrupting their social development by preventing or limiting social media use?

Your teen may be (and probably is!) very right! Social media is a big part of being a teenager these days. It does help them stay connected, and is so common that probably all of their peers are using it! Social media is ESPECIALLY important for expat teens! Having to move away from home is a tough thing - but the ability to remain connected remotely can offer much comfort. Having access to technology and social media for expat teens can also means improving connections in their new countries of residence, too. 

It’s understandable that parents might be iffy about allowing teens to be online as much as they’d like to be - but it’s undeniable that by placing strict limits on usage, you may also be effectively ostracizing your teen from their peers. Rather than avoiding the “problem” of social media, have honest conversations with your teens and try to form boundaries that make sense for both your beliefs as well as your teen’s.

I know there are safety features on my teen’s phone so I can monitor or control their social media and other apps - is it ok for me to use these things? My teenager says this is invading their privacy.

Letting your teen have some independence is important for their identity development, as well as to show that you trust them. It also allows them to be challenged with social situations so they can learn to better navigate them next time. It’s far more important that they know they can come to you if the challenge is too great than to try and prevent them from ever facing a challenge at all by controlling their access. 

This does, again, depend on your teen’s maturity level. Some apps may be more appropriate for one teen to use than another. If your teen is just starting out on social media, consider looking into the apps and deciding which ones you think are best to start with. Explain the safety and security features on pages - like setting a page to private - and explain why this is important to do. If a teen feels like their parents are on their side and working with them to be set up for success, they will be far more likely to work with you than against you.

Is social media healthy or unhealthy for kids? How can I be sure my teen is having a healthy relationship with social media? 

This is a tough question, mostly because it is both. 

There is some research indicating that social media is associated with mental health problems, like depression and anxiety, as well as with poor sleep quality, decreased exercise, and self-esteem issues. It can create the illusion that everyone is happy all the time. It can be especially unhealthy for teens who are already experiencing mental health issues, because it can reinforce or make depression or anxiety worse.  

On the other hand, it can also have benefits - long distance connection, opportunities to learn new skills, become more creative and empowered.  Social media can help bring certain communities together and increase social awareness. For kids who are ready to explore social media, it can certainly help them grow.

How can we make sure a teen has a healthy relationship with social media? Talking to them about the importance of being able to put down the phone and enjoy the moment is one way to start. Demonstrating YOUR ability to put down the phone is important too! Being open with them about how you use social media and showing that the number of likes or friends or comments doesn’t determine self-worth will help teach your teen how they should interact with the platforms, too.

You can also try explaining the differences in effort and realism between a curated instagram account and a down-to-earth one. Or encouraging them to follow accounts that bring smiles - like people they look up to or accounts that share funny comics - rather than ones that can cause negative comparison - like super-rich celebrities. Rather than saying no to things, try saying yes to others - it’s much easier to replace a habit with a new one than stop a habit!

As a parent, I think my teen uses too much social media, and I want to limit their time on it or at least monitor what they’re doing to make sure they’re safe. How can I approach this topic without it turning into an argument?

First, ask yourself why you think it’s too much. Do they seem to be not getting enough sleep? Are they too stressed about likes to put down the phone? Is their social media and tech usage similar to your amount?

Next, talk with them and ask them about their experiences. Why are they on social media so often? What do they use it for? Do they feel like they use it too much? Really put in an effort to hear their perspective - maybe you will come to understand what is going on, like they are feeling homesick for their friends in your former home country. By spending the first part of the conversation listening, you are also turning it into a discussion rather than an argument.

Now you can express your concerns: too much screen time, too much social media, whatever it may be. State how you see this affecting them - anxiety, stress, depression - and begin brainstorming how to improve this. The point of the conversation is you are concerned for their mental and physical health and wellbeing, not that you just want to prevent them from having fun. Together, see if you can reach middle grounds on how much social media or screen time your teen has. Try and encourage them to come up with solutions, too. Ask how you can help them meet these goals. 

Also consider your own usage: if you are asking your teen to only use their screens for an hour a day, but you are on yours the entire afternoon and evening, this will make it MUCH harder for your teen to be successful and understanding of why you are trying to set up limitations. Replace screen time with time together (we have fun family bonding activities in our newsletter every month that are worth a try!)

Is your teen struggling with their tech usage or having troubles with anxiety and depression?

Our excellent team of therapists are available to help navigate tough topics. To learn more about our services, including our new teen group therapy, visit either our teen services page or our child services page. Online appointments are now (still!) available!