Written by Lindy Keffer

Sometimes it feels like the technology that was intended to make communication easier actually makes it harder between you and your teenager. But it doesn’t have to be that way. While the ever-changing tech world means that parents have to constantly learn and evaluate to stay one step ahead of young people, it also provides some new opportunities to connect. Try these out in your home:

  • Text your teen. Say, “I love you,” “I’m thinking of you,” or “I’m praying for you.” It’s today’s equivalent of a note tucked into a lunch box.
  • Create a Facebook page and interact with your teen online. You don’t need to try to beat teenagers at their own game. (That is, it’s not necessary to message your kid on Facebook to tell him that dinner is ready.) But having your own profile will allow you to see how your teens are representing themselves, who they’re interacting with and what their privacy settings are. And you might just reconnect with some old friends in the process.
  • Have movie dates with your teens. Talk about the worldview philosophies presented by popular and classic films. (Follow the link on our homepage to “PluggedIn” for help!) It could impact the films your teens decide to watch.
  • “Google life” with your teen. This phrase, coined by the firm Teen Research Unlimited,[2] denotes the amazing availability of information about, well, everything on the Internet. So when you have a totally trivial question about a sports statistic, or when you wonder whether it’s possible to manufacture water, look it up! As you increase your family’s store of random knowledge, make the most of teachable moments. Talk to your teen about reliable vs. unreliable sources of information. For example, if she’s looking for health facts, it’s important for her to know that Planned Parenthood’s statistics come with an agenda attached. And it will benefit teens to know why Wikipedia is useful, but shouldn’t be relied upon for research papers.
  • Educate with info on demand. Teens are accustomed to getting information on demand. Capitalise on this expectation by teaching them financial smarts. Banks offer a wealth of automated services — many of them free to young clients. And since it’s often possible to download financial information from your bank directly into easy-to-use budgeting software, you can give your tech-savvy teen a head start on good stewardship.
  • Swap tunes. Purchase an iTunes or other music downloading gift card for yourself and one for your teen. Each of you should create a playlist that introduces the other person to his or her favourite songs. Make a deal to listen to the whole playlist, at least once, without criticism.
  • If your workplace allows you to use IM, do it. (Eighty percent of adult IM users do so at work.[3]) It’s another way to make yourself available to your teens — and to speak their language while you’re at it.
  • Become the student. If you feel like you’re fighting a losing battle to keep up with your teen’s technology, enlist his or her help. Allowing your teenager to instruct you creates two positive outcomes at once: You learn what’s new in tech-land, and you spend time connecting as a family.

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[1]  Matthew Rose, “My Midlife Facebook Crisis,”*The Wall Street Journal Online (November 3, 2007). Accessed November 21, 2007.

[2]  Lorraine Salt, “Meet the Millennials,”*Wired West (August 2006). Accessed November 21, 2007. Editor’s note: The term “Google life” appears in Teen Research Unlimited’s report on their 2006 teen survey. It can be found on http://www.teenresearch.com, but since access to the site requires a subscription, the previous link has been provided as a summary of the report.

[3]  “Poll: Teens Use IMs to avoid embarrassment,” CNN.com (November 16, 2007). Accessed November 21, 2007.