Roblox. Brawl Stars. YouTube. TikTok. Twitch. WhatsApp. Gucci. Woke. LYSM. WYM.

At times it feels that our kids are living in a different world from us and speak a different language!

According to Chong Ee Jay, family life specialist and master trainer for cyber wellness and media literacy, the key to parenting effectively in a digital age is to be a parent-coach. We need to become better messengers of the message we want to tell our kids.

As parents, we are often instructive and directive – do this and don’t do this. But we can better navigate the digital world together with our teens by learning the traits of a coach– cheering them on from the sidelines whilst nudging them in the right direction.

At a recent webinar, Ee Jay shared some tips and tools on how to become more effective parent-coaches:

1. Don’t be afraid to try technology

Our kids are digital natives in an ever-changing digital landscape. It seems as though there are new games, new apps, and new fads every day. We need to get acquainted with some of these new fads too. Knowing what our children are interested in and how they are spending their time online can help us build bridges for connection.

We need to become better messengers of the message we want to tell our kids.

2. Begin by understanding our children’s development

We need to take a step back and understand why children are drawn to the online world.

Neurologically, teenagers are not yet able to control their impulses – particularly when dealing with technology that is designed to be very appealing and addictive. From a social-emotional development standpoint, our children could be finding their inspiration and sense of independence from online communities.

We can ask questions to understand their motivations. Why are they so drawn to a particular game? Is it because they feel a sense of mastery when they reach a new level in the game? Or does it provide them with a community where they are accepted? Does being able to scroll through YouTube give them a sense of autonomy as they choose the videos they want to watch? Let’s seek to understand and view things from their perspectives, not just our own.

3. Know your child’s personality

Every child is unique. Do we understand how ours are wired? What excites them and what triggers them? Our understanding of our child’s personality can help us to love and communicate with them in a way that they can best receive it.

It also helps to know our own personalities as well – so we can best tailor our conversations with our children.

4. Rules are necessary, but relationship is key

We need both rules and relationship. Rules without relationship lead to rebellion. Rules with relationship lead to a response.

How strong is our relationship with our children? To build it, try these:

  • Give them our full attention when they speak to us.
  • Accept our children for who they are – with their unique strengths and weaknesses.
  • Express appreciation when they help out at home.
  • Demonstrate affection by giving a hug or high five.

Don’t forget to communicate the reasons behind the rules to our teenagers. Tell them the purpose of technology – why you are giving them a phone and why they are allowed (or not allowed) to play phone games.

Find the right time to talk through issues, when both of you are relaxed and won’t be interrupted. Explain that the rules are meant to help them navigate the digital realm in terms of suitable usage as well as dealing with unsavoury content.

5. Invite collaboration

Providing opportunities for our children to make choices and to collaborate fosters accountability, ownership and responsibility. Instead of dictating the terms of the kids’ technology agreements, or family technology rules, try adopting this collaborative conversation approach:

– Explain – give the reason for the rules.
– Explore – be willing to listen to their perspectives or suggestions.

Some phrases we can use include: Tell me more. Let me know if you don’t agree with this rule, what alternatives would you propose.

We may have to explain, explore and then explain some more and explore some more. Thereafter, we can empower our teenagers. Let them try it out and check in again after a period of time.

6. Set positive expectations

The teenage years are a precarious period where our children are seeking inspiration and independence. It is thus important that we set the right example. It speaks poorly of us if we ask them not to use their devices excessively but are unable to put our phones down ourselves. We should live by the same rules we apply to our children.

We can also frame our expectations positively. Don’t just tell them what not to do, but also paint a picture of what you hope to see. For example, instead of telling them that no phones are allowed at the dinner table, express how you hope that dinner can be a time for conversation!

Parenting is a journey that requires constant calibration and re-calibration. Let’s grow with our kids as they grow up in this connected world.

© 2020 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Sue-Ann Lee

Singaporean Christian Author

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