When it comes to tech talks, different ages have different needs.

Once upon a time, there was an evening ritual—dinner table conversations about the day, discussions of homework requirements for the evening, nighttime television turned off, and telephones that went unanswered. For many parents this seems like a very long time ago—a time when we knew what our kids were doing.

Today is darkened with the blessing and the curse of the internet—so much material, both helpful and dangerous, at our fingertips. How are our children able to navigate this new age? How are we supposed to talk with our kids about navigating all of this?

Just as we went through our children’s backpacks, sorted their laundry and looked through their rooms, we must be tuned-in to their internet activity.  Here are age-sensitive approaches to help you manage these difficult and treacherous conversations.

How to Manage those Difficult Conversations

Your Accessible Child (Under 8):

This is your innocent child, under 10, newly interested in those fun video games, your cell phone and Uncle Jeff’s online gaming system. It’s all magical, educational, and addictive! So, this is the time that both of you need to learn how to set boundaries. Both of you can get accustomed to setting limits for time, content, and accessibility while your child is still little—and still likes you!

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that parents limit screen time to one hour per day and that they set restrictions as to the content their children are exploring. You can talk with your child about safeguards and limits that variously apply to all members of the family so there is an expectation that both rights and responsibilities will expand as they grow older.

Your Self-Conscious Child (9-12):

Your sweet child became a “tween” somewhere between 9 and 12 years old, crossing into a sea of raging hormones, self-consciousness and impulsive decision making, often guided by similarly-minded friends. And this is also about the time that many kids get their first smart phone. Off to middle school, they believe they are mature, all the while straddling the  relative safety of childhood and the risks and adventures that come with adolescence.

These changes make our tweens emotionally and physically vulnerable to people and temptations in their environment. In this attention-seeking phase of life, tweens crave approval from peers and can often succumb to foolish peer pressure or become targets of bullying, teasing, and invitations of dangerous behavior. 

Often lacking emotional acuity and personal boundaries, tweens may have difficulty determining who is a trustworthy friend and who is a mean-spirited foe. Sometimes the same kid can seem at different times to be both.

Unfortunately, tweens often end up connecting with those who take advantage of their need for attention. It is common for kids in this age group to isolate a bit from their parents into their “private space,” making it hard for parents to accurately assess their friendships, their cyber use, and their mood. Parents struggle with the question, “Is this just a passing phase – or something more serious?”

Your Private Child (13+):

Tweens develop a certain bravado they day they turn into a teen. They are more tight-lipped about their feelings, school work and friends. A simple question like “How was your day?” can turn into eye-rolling and a “Don’t worry about it” response.

Timing is everything. Don’t jump down their throat about homework the minute they walk in the door. Remember that they are always hungry, and your offer of a snack will go far. 

Understand that they have a virtual world and internet friends that they connect with. See if they will let you play one of their online games with them. If they (likely) turn you down, at least you showed some interest in their world.

Try asking them to help set up your internet connections and teach you how to use the latest ways of communicating technologically. And ask them to help you set up your privacy setting which broaches the subject of staying safe. Young teens are invincible—or so they think. You might gingerly share stories of people you know who have really gotten into some trouble by sharing compromising photos online. 

Sexually explicit photos or Instagram photos revealing potential drug or alcohol use sometimes end up on a teacher’s site or viewable by college admissions boards. Stress with them the importance of watching out for danger signs among their friends and acquaintances and how peers must be prepared to appropriately intervene.

These concerns bear repeating again and again. Their invincibility leads them to taking bigger risks, sharing too much, and saying things about others that just shouldn’t be said in a public forum.

Be A Good Role Model

Above all else, teach respect, safety and proper etiquette. These boundaries and manners are important to reinforce and model. You might need to think twice before posting your own questionable photos, check-ins and embarrassing pictures of yourself and your kids! 

About Charlene Underhill Miller, PhD

Charlene Underhill Miller, PhD is a psychotherapist in Southern California with private practices in Santa Monica and Malibu. She helps parents, children, couples and individuals. A graduate of UCLA and Fuller School of Psychology, Dr. Miller also is involved in school-based education and consultation, an adjunct faculty member of the Pepperdine University Graduate School of Psychology, a wife, mother, and stepmother. 

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