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Digital Boundaries for Teens and Caregivers

Apr 21, 2022
Digital Boundaries for Teens and Caregivers

Technology is a big part of our lives, especially for teens. Teens have unique social and emotional needs, and parents need different strategies for their teens’ online safety from what they followed with younger children. The foundation for online safety is creating healthy digital boundaries — what a young person is comfortable doing, seeing, and feeling while using technology and how they would like to be treated by others.

5 Steps for Caregivers to Support Healthy Digital Boundaries for Teens:

1. Understand how your teen uses technology, including in friendships/relationships.

Ask your teen to show you their favorite app, game, or social media site. Make this one area where you get to be the student and your teen gets to be the teacher by joining the activity. Try to focus on the quality of the screen time – what are the online activities that help your child to increase social connections and learn new skills?

Example: “What are your favorite things about this app?”

2. Approach internet safety with curiosity instead of judgment.

Sometimes, a caregiver may react to a teen’s safety concerns with fear and try to immediately take away internet privileges. Research from the University of Central Florida indicates it can actually reduce safety for teens. A calm, open response will determine whether they confide in you the next time they encounter a problem, especially for older teens.

Example: “Thank you for telling me about that awkward DM. Let’s talk through this together.”

3. Communicate family values and expectations.

Allow young people to describe what they hope to see, do, and feel when they are online. Discuss strategies to deal with boundary-crossing behaviors online. For middle school students, focus on risk coping skills, like the “What If?” game, and exit strategies, like family codewords. For high school students, remind teens of their digital rights online, including keeping passwords private from friends or dating partners.

Example: “It’s important to me that you have a fun and safe experience on this app. From my perspective, that means…. What does it mean for you?” 

4. Partner together to create a Family Media Agreement.

Family media agreements provide a way to talk through digital boundaries. Talk with your teen about internet safety in a positive way and give them the opportunity to make safety resolutions that you can both live with. Young people can gain skills for self-regulation by learning how to manage their screen time by using digital well-being tools on their devices.

Example: “I hear you saying that phone time at night helps you unwind. I’m concerned about how that impacts your sleep. What are some other ways that might help you unwind after phone time?”

5. Consider the usefulness of monitoring internet use.

Decide if it may be appropriate to monitor your child’s internet use. “Parental control apps” are commonly used for teens but these apps can increase danger by breaking down trust and normalizing the use of control as a form of love. Overwhelmingly, teens express a need for open conversation with trusted adults instead of parental control apps.

Example: “If there’s ever something you think is so bad that you can’t tell me, write it down in a note. Bring the note to me and I promise that I will love you and help you figure it out.”

CommonSenseMedia.org offers articles and guidance for adults who want to keep their families safe and productive online, including a Family Toolkit, developed in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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Caitlin Tully
Caitlin Tully
The Center for Family Safety and Healing

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.