You’ve prepped your child for their future. They have the grades, they have the extra-curricular, they have the test scores… but is their cell phone getting in the way of their communication and time management skills?
“We know that 92% of teens are online, but the bigger issue is that 24% of teens feel as though they are constantly online,” says Ana Homayoun, a teen and millennial expert, and founder of Green Ivy Educational Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based firm.
So it is no wonder that college prep experts like Homayoun and Noelle Ward, occupational therapist and founder of Life Skills 4 College, agree that parents should take a look at how digital devices are impacting your teen’s soft skills.
“Back in the day, or even before devices, we had a lot more down time,” says Ward. “We had time to figure out more on our own. Now we are so over scheduled in our lives, so parents are doing a lot more for kids instead of letting them do it for themselves. We’re taking the skills away from them and creating anxiety that we don’t even know we’re producing.”
And where is that anxiety showing up they say? In college students, as they figure out how to manage conflict, communicate with their peers and professors, and manage their newfound unscheduled freedom once they leave the nest.
Practice practical communication skills
“Given how much of our communication happens online, many of us, especially young adults, feel underprepared for important or difficult face-to-face conversations,” says Homayoun. “But these discussions are not only unavoidable, they’re critical to our personal and professional growth and development.”
When coaching students, Homayoun encourages teens to practice more face-to-face interactions by getting out of their comfort zone and contribute to their school in new ways: maybe join a new group or activity to help develop an interest. No, she is not recommending joining an online gaming community, she wants teens to put themselves out there in person.
“Connecting with diverse groups of people face-to-face in middle and high school will only help young adults better prepare for new environments on campus or in an office.”
It’s in those new situations where teens will learn to present themselves, manage conflict and work as a team.
Now if that seems overwhelming for a shy or reserved teen, Ward recommends helping them start from the beginning and practice scenarios at home, where they may feel more comfortable. She recommends parents take time to deliberately point out and model communication tactics, especially conflict resolution in the home, to prepare them for those new scenarios.
“Have conversations when you’re driving in the car, when you’re at dinner or in any situation where issues with the household comes up,” says Ward. She says parents should talk through family issues and break them down, step by step, to explain how you were able to find a solution.
“Tell your teen, ‘Hey, I want you to take note about what worked and what didn’t work when resolving conflict,'” says Ward. “Ask them to give you the answers. The more questions you ask them, the better.”
These little conversations will help their confidence grow over time. They will feel more prepared for group settings, new experiences and, in the end, to manage their own conflicts with roommates, group work and uncharted office environments.
Understand their way of communicating
On the subject of asking questions, that’s the best way these experts recommend you get on your teen’s level. There is a lot to learn about the ways they do know how to communicate. Since we are all too familiar that parents don’t have every answer when it comes to technology, Homayoun says your kids can be your best teachers. Not all of the apps they use are distracting them from their communication skills, some of them enhance and prepare them for their future.
“Parents should be aware of the apps their children are using. The best way to understand the language and the lingo of social media is to listen and to allow tweens and teens to be your core source of information,” says Homayoun. “Speaking the language doesn’t mean that you need to understand every little nuance of social media. Being genuinely intrigued, however, goes a long way.”
She says she uses all the apps her students talk about, and because apps are always being updated, Homayoun recommends learning about the latest features and versions via your teens. Conversations will flow when you ask them to “explain their favorite features and what they like about different apps or websites.”
By understanding what excites your teen and showing interest in their world, the conversation about putting limits on those interests and digital communication becomes much easier.
“Their phone is their life. That is the new reality, no matter how much we want to ignore it,” says Ward. “You still have to set limitations and have those conversations about ‘don’t break up over text’ or ‘don’t hide behind things online’ and ‘spend time with your friends instead of just with your phone’.”
When it’s a two way conversation, your child is more likely to listen to your communication experience and reach out to you or other trusted adults when they need help resolving conflict online or off.
“This takes away anxiety,” says Ward. “This takes away fear, because now they know what to do. They can move forward because they have steps and someone they trust.”
Three new ways to jumpstart these lessons:
- Get on the same page with your child about their technology use.
Try downloading the same apps together and use them to communicate. Send them messages over social media, create a group text or WhatsApp stream with your family, or even set up a family Google calendar. As you become comfortable with communicating as a family online, you can watch for issues or concerns with your child and address them early on. If they learn how to be responsible online with you, they will likely carry that on to college and future jobs. Having practice managing a calendar or schedule as a family, eliminates the anxiety of having to start doing it on their own once they leave the house.
- Create opportunities for face-to-face interactions with other trusted adults.
Although, we as parents, want to teach and share all of our wisdom with our kids, the bottom line is, they don’t always want to listen to us. Sometimes relying on an aunt or uncle, neighbor, coach or friend, may be more productive. As Homayoun recommended, encourage your teen to get involved with not only different school organizations but other community opportunities, like volunteering or mentorship programs, where they can develop trusted relationships with coaches and other adults. Have conversations with these adults about the influence they have on your child, especially when it comes to learning these important communication and time management skills. Ward adds it is imperative that parents remember they can be that same trusted source for other people’s children, as well.
- Download WebSafety and be alerted of communication issues before they get out of hand.
Parents are guaranteed to miss some things. Sometimes it is just time and accessibility, but other times teens intentionally hide what’s really going on. This is where monitoring tools come in handy, not as a way to instill fear, but as a second pair of eyes so that parents can start communicating with their kids before poor communication and activity choices get out of hand. This is where we see anxiety, fear and frustration spiral for young adults, when they have online issues that they don’t feel comfortable sharing with adults and don’t get the immediate help they need.