Counselor's Corner

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Understanding Your Child’s Virtual World

In middle school, it is common for parents to struggle with their child’s use of technology. Some parents choose to prevent all access over fear of the potential consequences. Others allow their child access, but are later shocked by what they find. Wherever you may fall in this spectrum, these are my top tips for getting started in managing your child’s digital media.

1. Educate Yourself: What apps are your child using? Download them to understand them. Join in when you can! Do your best to come from a place of objectivity rather than judgment. This will help your child feel more understood and likely to open up about their online activity.

“Can you show me how to use TikTok? Can you show me one of your favorite videos or games?” “What positives are you getting out of your time online?" What do you enjoy most?” “Who is your favorite influencer or gamer?”

2. Digital Detox: Create daily or weekly ways to do digital detox with your family. Taking devices away at night can be an easy way to do this. They do not like to admit this, but students often appreciate the help in managing their technology in order to focus on schoolwork or sleep. This also gives them an excuse to go “offline” with their friends. Otherwise, they may feel the pressure of needing to be available at all times.

What do you think is a good time to put our phones away? Let’s have a discussion about setting boundaries with technology. Research states that we should not use technology one hour before bed for better sleep, what do you think about that?” Is there anything about your phone that stresses you out?”

3. Explore the “WHY?”: Have a conversation with your child about the “whys?” Why are you reaching for your phone? Why are you taking so many photos to post? Why are you using that app? Help your child understand their motivation for doing certain actions. Rather than demonizing all social media as bad, help them distinguish between positive and negative content or applications. This will be more productive than trying to argue that ALL social media is bad. Empower them to have a choice over which online activities they will opt in and opt out of with your guidance and support!

What do you think are examples of positive online activities? What are examples of negative uses of social media? Why do tech companies want you to use their app? What are factors that make an app addicting? What are possible consequences of unsafe behaviors online?

Coming from a place of curiosity and understanding will help your child feel safer to share what is really going on in their virtual world with you. Have healthy discussions, set clear and consistent boundaries and help your child learn how to make responsible choices both online and offline.