With an increase in overall tech use from a very early age, today’s teenagers have more to deal with than ever. Parents need to take a leading role, which might seem daunting at first. After all, who wants restrictions on games, social connections, and all the information in the world? But new research from Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School finds that adolescents are open to parental guidance—if you take the right approach.

New research into teens’ use of technology

The Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital focuses on the intersection of digital media and the mental, emotional, and physical health of youth. Their research spans from birth through young adulthood, which means they’re well equipped to help parents understand how technology affects their kids’ development.

Do teens follow your rules about technology?

You might be surprised. In the Digital Wellness Lab’s most recent Pulse Survey, Adolescent Media Use: Attitudes, Effects, and Online Experience, researchers expected to find that teens resent or reject the rules their families place on their time spent online. But the study found that teens are actually far more aligned with their family’s restrictions: While roughly a third of respondents reported having rules about content, websites, or apps they can’t use, over half (54%) said that these rules are “the right amount of restrictive.”
A teenage boy lays on his bed while using a cell phone and a laptop.

Teens want to protect themselves

The study also found that teens trusted the safety guardrails made by the tech and media companies behind their favorite devices and apps. They said they want to be able to protect themselves from harm by blocking other users, with 74% saying this was very or extremely important, and 56% said they appreciate clarity on privacy guidelines and rules for how their data is used.

When do teens’ technology habits form?

A teenager’s habits with interactive media and technology don’t emerge the day they turn 13 or when they receive their first device. These habits are built through modeling and practice throughout their childhood, which means you have plenty of opportunities to help your kids develop lifelong healthy and safe digital media habits.

How do you talk to kids about technology?

It’s easier than you might think. Try these five tips to keep a healthy conversation going throughout childhood and the teenage years:

Page overview

Determine guardrails together

Determine guardrails together
Open a line of communication and keep it open
Teach your child to trust their gut
Talk with your child about cyberbullying
Model your own healthy digital behaviors
Determine guardrails together

Create a shared media use agreement with your child to give them a sense of agency over their tech habits, within boundaries appropriate for their age and level of maturity. Keep your agreements relevant by updating them regularly—especially when circumstances change, such as during school vacations when rules may be more relaxed.

Open a line of communication and keep it open

The best way to learn what’s going on in your kids’ world is to talk with them. Ask about what they see and experience online on a regular basis to help them develop healthy media habits; don’t simply monitor their media use behind the scenes. When you both feel relaxed, ask open-ended questions about how experiences during their day made them feel or how they think others may be feeling. Intentionally listening and responding without judgment will help to keep communication open.

Teach your child to trust their gut

Have conversations with your child about how they decide who they should communicate or share information with, and why. Design communication plans together for how they can reach out to you if something doesn’t feel safe, or if something just feels off. When they are ready for devices, set them up together, discussing which safety and privacy features are available to them and how to use them.

Talk with your child about cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can affect kids even before they have regular access to devices. Build your child’s empathy and upstanding behavior by having conversations early about the ways we behave in real life and how we behave online. Ask them how others may feel when people say or do harmful things, and name the process for getting help if your child is being bullied or sees someone else being treated unkindly.

Model your own healthy digital behaviors

There is a saying that kids listen to 100% of what they see—and 0% of what they hear. Modeling behaviors for your child and practicing healthy media use as a family can make boundaries feel less like restrictions and more like family norms. When you are caught breaking the rules, own up to it, apologize, and move forward. We can all use reminders to use our technology and media in healthy ways!

Being proactive is the first step

By actively seeking out information on how to improve your child’s experience with technology, you’re already ahead of the curve. Keep exploring and learning in the Family Digital Wellness Guide.