Teen Manners in a Tech World

How to balance your kid's need for technology with good old-fashioned manners

Photograph by Daniel Montoya

Does this scenario sound familiar? You’re in the middle of a nice restaurant, enjoying dinner with your extended family when you look up from your meal. Your teen daughter has her iPhone out, tweeting back and forth with her boyfriend under the table, and now you’re seeing red. Your first instinct might be to rip the phone from her hand and ban her from using technology in all forms, but don’t. “Parents have to accept that this world is a technology-based world,” says licensed family therapist Bette Alkazian, founder of Balanced Parenting. “We have to understand that our kids will need technology skills and understanding to remain employed in the coming generations.”

But manners are important, too. As teens, your kids are at the perfect age for an ongoing conversation about how to appropriately handle tech toys in a new world of innovation. Here are the dos and don’ts of approaching teens and technology.

DO: Set the Right Tone

You want your kids to be connected, online and off. It’s up to you to lay the groundwork about what’s OK and what isn’t. “Balance is key,” says Alkazian. “Acceptance of kids’ need to stay in touch with their friends much of the time is important, but limits can also be set. For example, no phone at the dinner table, during family times and so on.”

DON'T: Allow Negativity

Although Twitter can be a great tool, and Facebook can be a fun way to stay in touch, check in on their social media accounts from time to time. An ill-advised tweet can spread like wildfire, retweeted thousands of times in mere seconds. And that’s just one example of the proportion of impact.

RELATED: Parenting in the Age of Social Media

“Too often I see teens posting comments on Twitter that make them look silly, put others down, include profanity and complain about their teachers,” says Julie Spira, author of The Rules of Netiquette. “It's imperative that parents see what their teens are posting, and delete their accounts if any of this behavior appears on their Twitter stream. Twitter's reach goes beyond the 500 million registered accounts as every update or tweet can be shared and even go viral. It can be damaging to your child's reputation, both online and offline.”

DO: Think in Advance

Just before you get out of the car to see Aunt Sue, it is not the right time to say, “OK, no phone for the next three hours.” Avoid that argument. “Proactive discussion is important,” says Alkazian. “If parents would like their kids to put their phones down at the dinner table, much of the time on vacation or at grandma’s house, the request needs to be made in advance and made quite clear.” That way, there will be no protesting when the time comes.

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