Teens, Parents and Technology


25 positive ways Parents and Leaders can embrace our digital age with Teens

As a parent of teens and pre-teens as well as a youth leader, I cringe every time I see young people adopting new technology.  It’s not that I think all this stuff is evil, it’s just a tool, it’s morally neutral making our use of it what determines whether it is good or bad.  I cringe because every new app, feature, game or fad represents yet another thing I have to learn in order to ‘keep up’.

It’s also one more unwarranted reminder that I’m getting old.  

My goal, as an influencer of this next generation, is ultimately to stay connected in a meaningful way to what is happening in the lives of the teens and young adults around me - especially my own kids.  As much as I would love to stop learning as a parent or leader, I recognize that by not investing my time into understanding and using new forms of technology, I am actually giving up some of my relational leverage with the people I care most about. What has felt like an endless war of fighting for their attention over some device or video game may actually be a hidden pathway for us to build deeper relationships than ever before.

With the help of one of our young adult contributors at The Catalyst Collective, Sarah Stokes, we have put together 25 ideas on how Generation X and beyond can use technology to support or deepen our relationships with the teens and young adults in our lives.  Many of these we embraced as an organization or as a parent and found them to be highly effective.  

Most of the talk around young people and tech revolves around defense.  How do we prevent/control/limit/create boundaries is often the discussion.  These are good talks to have too but maybe we should embrace the fact that the world is moving faster, not slower, and that technology, if used wisely, can be a parents greatest offensive weapon in the fight to remain a significant influence in their son or daughters life.

So here we go, in no specific order, here are a few offensive plays you can add to your playbook...

1. Engage with them on Snapchat!

Snapchat has become increasingly popular in today’s world. Think of it as a more advanced way to text back and forth with a teen.  There are 60 million active daily users in the U.S. and Canada and 150 million active users world-wide (Forbes, 2016). This platform is not going away anytime soon and if the young people in your life are using it as their go to method of communication, then you are missing out on a big piece of their life by not joining them on it.  

Step into the world of faceswaps and puppy filters and learn how to use Snapchat here.

2. See the world through their filter on Instagram.

Instagram has become a popular way of showing off your aesthetic. It’s easy to keep up with teens passions and artistic interests by following them on ‘Insta’. This is easier to use than Snapchat and still a big part of the way the under 30 crowd communicates.  Get started here.

3. Engage your teen with educational apps!

2018 is a fast-paced tech world and teens have a lot of information at their fingertips. Technology can be a great way for teens to build academic and college readiness. Check out apps like Khan Academy and Dictionary.com, or College Board’s CollegeGo app and Fastweb Scholarship’s app.

4. If you’re a coach or a parent of an athlete, check out this skill building app called StatUP!

StatUp allows you to assess and track progress on sports related skills.

5. Don’t let screen time be something your teen does in isolation.

One of the most damaging aspects of technology is its tendency to draw people into themselves and away from the people around them. But it doesn’t have to! Games like Heads Up! or Trivia Crack are a great way to interact with your teen while using a screen.  Find out what apps they are playing and download them yourself to join in!

6. Facilitate phone calls or use of verbal technological communication.

Millenials don’t answer their phones. -__- Yes, texting might be a better way of reaching them (and you should definitely reach out to teens in that medium!) but talking on the phone or Skype/FaceTime are great ways to facilitate verbal interaction. Pushing your teen to be comfortable with these mediums of communication will also help them with face-to-face interaction in real life!

7. Teach or model proper online etiquette like you would face-to-face social interaction.

It’s easy to let etiquette slide when interacting online. Facebook discussions get abnormally heated, people post too much information about their personal lives all the time. It’s a good reminder to both ourselves and our teens that we shouldn’t be any less restrained in technological communication than we might be in face to face conversation. The next time some heated discussion breaks out on a social platform and things get crazy, use it as a talking point with teens to dissect where the communication broke down and how others could have communicated their ideas differently.

8. Take this opportunity to facilitate conversation about healthy boundaries.

Cyber-bullying and hazing are hot topics. And while there are lots of ways that a tech-based society can be harmful to teens, there’s also a huge opportunity to discuss healthy boundaries on social media in particular and social interaction in general.

9. Use social media to teach good writing and networking skills.

Writing and networking are vital skills in the business world and social media offers platforms for both. Allowing teens to cultivate these skills is a valuable step towards a future career.  At Catalyst, we challenge our teens and young adults who are looking for a job to create a profile and build out a resume on LinkedIN and then message 25 ‘adults’ on the platform who might know of a job that would be right for them.

10. Learn how to meme.

This is an artform and not everyone has the natural ability. But that shouldn’t stop you from trying! Here ya go!

11. Capitalize on the power of visual media to express deep concepts in a few seconds.

A picture’s worth a thousand words and a video’s worth even more. Technology provides us with an invaluable medium to convey meaning. Connecting with today’s teens in a media-charged world is about capitalizing on visual media. Think TedTalks, inspirational quotes, gifs, and memes.

12. Help your teen turn their phone into a creative outlet.

Canva, Adobe Photoshop, Google Drive, and Microsoft Office each provide unique creative outlets through downloadable apps. For teens interested in marketing, graphic design, photography, writing, or public speaking, technology offers a lot of options for improvement and development.

13. Use media for special needs kids.

As technology advances, so does the spread of information and research and with it, new ways of understanding different minds. Pen and paper and the old school way of learning may not be the most effective avenue of learning for a lot of kids today. Technology offers help for kids with learning difficulties. For example, the Social Navigator app teaches proper social etiquette to kids with Autism, ADHD or other behavioral disorders.

14. Engage your teen in critical thinking.

Almost all of us have cringed at times when reading heated debates on Facebook threads. There’s definitely a way to do it wrong, but social media and online forums also provide us with ways to stimulate teens’ interest on relevant topics. With all the information available, there’s potential for an informed discussion on current events, values, and policy solutions.  You can even challenge your teen to blog or vlog about a topic they are passionate about.  

15. Dumb Buzzfeed quizzes.

Okay, you may be skeptical but taking the What Kind of Donut Are You? test and comparing results with your teen can be a fun and hilarious way to connect.

16. Learn to use Spotify and connect with teens musically.

Spotify offers an incredible arsenal of songs and artists in addition to the opportunity to see what other people are listening to. Following teens on Spotify and checking out what music they’re into is a great bonding experience. Not to mention the Concerts Near Me feature where you can see which bands will be in your area.

17. Got skillz? Make a YouTube tutorial or Wikihow!

You’ve got wisdom and know-how that teens could benefit from! But you know what? They do too! Get a teen to help you upload a YouTube video or create a Wikihow page and bam! A symbiotic information-sharing relationship. If you have a teen that is glued to a particular video game, challenge them to create their own a ‘how to’ video about playing the game.  

18. Make tech a stepping stone to a career.

Screens don’t have to be a distraction. There are a lot of fields that can be benefitted by technological knowledge. Learning to code or create the games and sites teens enjoy can be a well-paying career. Sites like W3Schools offers free how-to information on basic languages.

19. Audio books!

Teens may not be interested in reading a book but they might listen to one. It’s like a podcast, but longer… Check out Amazon Audible or Librivox.  Offer to pay your kiddo per book they listen to!

20. Make video games a community activity.

Nothing’s better than a family Black Ops sesh.

21. Bond with your teen through collaborative writing.

Google Docs offers a great avenue for shared writing. You might use Drive already for work or personal organization, but for teens who like to write fiction, gdocs is a great way to see what stories they’re creating and even give suggestions or propose edits.

22. Utilize online academic tools like Harvard Extension or Crash Course.

Directing your teen to educational opportunities like Harvard’s online Extension School or to Vlogbrother’s Crash Course videos is a great way to use technology for their benefit.

23. Get your teen to listen to podcasts on Spotify or other mediums.

Maybe when you were growing up people watched the news to get information or opinions, but today podcasts are a popular way of hearing other people analyze a topic. Spotify offers of variety of interesting podcasts like Philosophize This! or Omnibus.

24. Use tech and visual appeal to market news to technological teens.

People complain about the next generation being uninformed and apathetic, but there’s a surprising lack of people attempting to package current events in a format marketable to teens. Not caring about things that don’t affect you is a logical thing. Instead of complaining that the next generation doesn’t seem to care, make an effort to communicate how current events affect them and why they matter!

25. Make new family traditions.

Go see Star Wars every Christmas, or share your favorite old movies and watch their favorite current movies! Post annual remake selfies or create inside joke phrases to use on social media.



Got some more ideas you can add to this list?  Comment and share!  We would love to learn from you as well!