BY DR. WES CRENSHAW AND KATIE GUYOT
Dr. Wes: Holiday shopping for kids often means high-tech gifts. But there’s one accessory you won’t find in among the chargers and quick-start guides — the ethics manual.
That one you have to write yourself and then guide your kids in its proper use. As Katie notes, it’s easier to be proactive than to play catch-up after your electronic December goes south in March.
Never have teens held so much power at their fingertips — to publish commentary around the world; to impulsively transmit any thought to a thousand eager followers; to create their own reality shows, complete with HD video; to escape this world with all its shortcomings and exist as battlefield heroes in an intricate alternative universe; and so on.
Teens being teens, they quickly forget that great power demands great responsibility. That’s where the ethics manual comes in. Before anyone unwraps those electronic gifts, parents need to sit down and discuss the following issues:
• When can this technology be used? Hint: Most electronics should go off during study time, an hour before bed and at times when their use is impolite.
• Where can it be used? Hint: Electronics in the bedroom lead to distracted, tired kids. Technology at school has its place but only when it’s not a disruption.
• What are the ethical uses of this technology? Hint: Smartphones are tiny TV stations waiting to broadcast ANYTHING live as it happens. Discuss what can and cannot be on your teen’s channel, with a special emphasis on sexting pictures. It’s child pornography — a point apparently lost on 54 percent of teenagers who do it.
• Who owns the technology and who has access to it? Hint: Parents own all technology until age 18, regardless of who buys it. Facebook, Twitter and other social media are just that — social. Parents should be friends and followers and kids who object undoubtedly have good reason. However, phone calls, email and texts should be afforded greater privacy unless there is probable cause to believe the teen is at risk of harm to self or others.
• What are the consequences of misuse? Hint: Make punishments increasingly serious and directly linked to the gadget. So don’t take away a cellphone for poor grades unless it’s contributing to poor study habits.
Katie: My parents gave me my first cellphone when I was in sixth grade. I’m not sure how I used that cute but cumbersome flip phone, but I do know that among my fellow 11- and 12-year-olds, I was actually considered a late arrival to 21st century technological indoctrination.
Many of my peers began texting before they learned how to spell the word “responsibility,” let alone act within its bounds.
With technology and the Internet entering our lives earlier and earlier, kids should start learning safe and ethical use when they first get hooked. They should be taught to treat virtual worlds as they do the real one. Otherwise it will be difficult for them to understand the importance of good behavior in all forms of communication.
There’s no surefire way to make teens high-tech ethics masters, but I’d suggest introducing them to technology gradually, emphasizing that while you want them to have fun, technology is more than a toy.
An iPod, for instance, is usually a safe and appreciated gift for kids of all ages. It also provides a good opportunity to teach them to ration money wisely and make download purchases legally.
As they age, gadgets increasingly link kids to the Internet, so it’s important to have serious, ongoing talks about online conduct. When you decide your child is old enough to set up an email or social media account, go through every step together, emphasizing ways they can keep themselves safe and treat others respectfully.
Unfortunately, once phones and computers land in teenagers’ hands, they aren’t always used the way they’re intended. Wes is right. My generation may shun me for saying this, but if needed, parents can always take back the gifts they’ve given.
Modern technology is a privilege, not a necessity for life. Some teens may be surprised to find themselves surviving without the newest products until they prove themselves mature enough to handle them.
— Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP, is author of “Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens” and “Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens.” Learn about his new practice Family Psychological Services at dr-wes.com. Katie Guyot is a Free State High School senior. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to email@example.com. Double Take opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.