Show me a teenager with an internet connection, and I’ll show you a worried parent. Technology was supposed to help us, but sometimes it can feel like it’s causing more problems than it solves.
Whether we like it or not we live in a digital world, one where our online social presence is just as important as our real-life world.
Raising teenagers in the age of the internet puts parents in uncharted territory as we grapple with how to parent a digital native. If your child is in high school, chances are they need your help to navigate the pitfalls and opportunities that are literally at their fingertips.
We can’t bury our heads in the sand and simply ban all social media/technology use for our children, as this will likely harm not only their friendships and social circles but also put them at risk of not learning essential online skills needed for most (if not all) modern careers.
It’s important to understand that the way our teens use technology is different than when we had dial up internet. Technology is an integral part of their lives and will likely form an integral part of their careers. Education is key – for parents and teens. So what can parents do?
Helping your teen manage the internet
There are several strategies you can use to manage your teen’s use of the internet.
Restricted access times
You can set up access time restrictions on your internet through your provider. (Telstra provides a handy guide.) It blocks all internet access at designated times, like during the night when your child should be sleeping or during homework time.
There are any number of parental controls on devices, through your internet service, and from streaming services. They let you decide, in advance, what content your children can use without permission, what content is never allowed, and what content you want to approve before they see it.
You can draw up a family contract for internet usage that explicitly defines the rules of your house. For it to be effective, everyone in the house should agree to abide by the rules, even you.
Set a time when all devices will be checked in for the evening. Don’t allow devices to be taken into the bedroom to ensure your teen is getting a good night’s sleep and not spending the early hours of the morning texting with friends.
Many families designate one day a week as a ‘tech-free’ day. All devices are checked in, including those belonging to adults, and the family commits to activities that don’t involve the internet.
Taking an occasional break from technology helps reconnect the family. Plan a camping trip, head to a regional area with poor cellphone coverage or get out on the water.
The internet and issues of trust
While you want to build trust with your teen, it has to be a two-way street. Insist on having the passcodes to your teenager’s devices so you can monitor activity if you feel like there’s been a problem. If you feel your child’s safety is in danger, do not hesitate to investigate.
For more information about how to manage the internet and avoid issues like cyberbullying, unwanted contact and grooming, and pornography and sexting, the eSafety Commissioner has a number of good resources, including this deck.
Social media plays a major role in your teen’s life, it’s where they can express themselves, connect with friends, and create and share new experiences. But it can also come with a whole host of issues (such as cyberbullying and predatory behaviors mentioned above). As a parent it is important to stay on top of your teen’s social media use.
Keep an eye on the platforms they are using. Popular apps for teens include:
Talk to your teen about social media; create an open dialogue and set some ground rules or examples of red flags they should be wary of in the world of social media.
Having a digital ‘stranger danger’ talk with your child from an early age will help them stay confident and alert on their apps. Help your teen understand their online actions can have real life consequences but let them know you are always there to help them if needed.
Be sure to be supportive and try to understand things from their perspective. Their online world is just as important as their offline world.
Good news for parents of tech-obsessed teens
If your child likes technology, an ATAR stream in ICT, math or sciences might be a good way to help bridge a hobby with a career. High school students might not realise there’s more opportunity for a satisfying and lucrative career in technology than ever before.
And, what’s more, they can start exploring those opportunities from a young age with CoderDojo groups for students between the ages of seven and 17.
But there’s so much more a technology degree can do in today’s global economy.
The global STEM paradox
Despite increasing numbers of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates worldwide, the demand for STEM skills increases. According to a report by the New York Academy of Sciences and FSG, jobs in both developed and developing countries remain unfilled due to:
- a shortage of graduates with soft skills in communication, critical thinking, and teamwork,
- a lack of qualified technicians for mid-level jobs in industries like manufacturing,
- a loss of high-skills workers in developing nations, sometimes called a ‘brain drain’, and
- an under-representation of women, rural populations, minority ethnic groups, lower socio-economic classes and other marginalized groups in STEM careers, providing a huge pool of untapped talent.
This shortage and the underlying causes create a huge opportunity for teenagers, especially those obsessed with technology. If you’re having conversations about careers with your teen, a technology career addresses many of the challenges our children are going to encounter in their working lives.
Remember that their passion for technology and social media could very well help them in a career that doesn’t even exist yet.
How to turn an interest in technology into a full-time career
Your teen might assume a technology degree is only for the stereotype they’ve seen on TV and in the media. Girls, in particular, don’t have enough good role models in STEM to help them imagine what they can achieve. Or, they might not know what it’s like to study for an IT degree.
Some of the areas of study your teen might consider are:
- network security,
- network engineering,
- virtual reality,
- cyber forensics,
- game and APP development, or
- software engineering.
Help your child identify careers where the need for STEM skills might not be obvious, like:
Technology jobs of the future won’t belong to social misfits in poorly fitting clothes; they’ll be full of highly paid professionals who are changing the world and making good incomes while they’re doing it. A technology degree puts them on the path to endless opportunity in jobs that haven’t even been invented yet.