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5 tips for teaching your kids to live in a digital world

By Alessandra Toscanelli, Contributor | Posted - Jul 21st, 2016 @ 4:00pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — We live globally. We live digitally. Teens need opportunities to learn how to thrive using technology to communicate, research, connect, study and work effectively.

Colleges are teaching more courses digitally. Jobs are requiring more digital productivity in fewer hours. Families are staying updated on Google Calendars. Parenting is about giving your children the tools to survive in life. Digital devices are no longer an option. Get connected. Get digital.

First, in order to understand today’s teen culture, parents need to acknowledge the fact that media and technology evolved hand in hand, starting from the earliest print to modern publications such as blogs, from radio to television to film to YouTube. New media emerges constantly as our offline world integrates with our online world. Our children need guidance, mentorship and healthy boundaries to navigate their learning of the new digital media realities.

Withholding digital devices is not advised by most parenting experts. Instead, learning to talk to your teens about your fears and concerns while teaching them to be tech savvy is the best safeguard you can give your children as they grow up in the most advanced era of never-ending tech updates to everyday life.

5 tips to raising tech-savvy teens

1. Understand that commercial advertising has changed

Technology and media now allow traditional advertising venues to bypass television and print media outlets. The annual revenue for newspapers, mail catalogs and television fell significantly in 2009. More and more companies are now advertising directly to smartphones, using social media sites like Facebook and invading scholastic websites as new ways of getting and hooking consumers in the digital age flourishes.

Your teens are seeing a surge of images and being polluted by advertisers without even being aware. As a parent, being conscious of the active consumerism on digital devices can help you explain to your teens how some companies are using their information to make billions of dollars at their expense.

2. Gaming addiction proliferates in teens

Yes, most parents likely stress about the effects of the violence in online games and their teens. However, most parents ignore the new growing problem facing teens and gaming. Gaming addiction in teens occurs in approximately 10 to 15 percent of all teens who regularly play online games. A current hot-topic debate for including teen gaming addiction in future editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, as it relates to the negative impacts on daily life, is currently underway by mental health professionals.

Online gaming is reported by parents as interfering with the social relationships, academic performance, mood problems and the overall development of interpersonal skills. Parents are strongly encouraged to seek professional assistance. Many mental health professionals can help with interventions, plans for behavior modifications and communication skills with a teenage suffering from a gaming addiction.

3. Pornography thrives openly on social media

Social media sites such as Twitter are spinning pornography into the new norm. Last year more than 2,500 tweets and links to websites were hacked and adult dating, sex personals and graphic sexual images were uploaded to profiles across the Twitter site. Anyone who is a recurrent “tweet”-er knows the unfortunate fact: it isn’t if you see porn, it is simply when you see porn. Twitter has a massive porn problem. (Personal note: My teens' tweets are protected, and the rule is that if they do not know the person in real life, then they do not add them to their profile.) Even the most innocent accounts will inevitably see something porn-related pop up in their feed.

While websites like Tumblr and Reddit are also known for the porn postings, it is estimated that as many as 10 million Twitter accounts are dedicated to porn. Talking to your teens about pornography, the harmful effects of pornography and pornography addiction is the best solution to a problem that is out of your control as a parent. Open discussions of appropriate behaviors, sexual emotions and peer pressures regarding sex during the teenage years are the best advice by mental health professionals.

4. Teach young teens to recognize information exchange value

News media encompass all forms of interactive information exchanges. These include social networking sites, popular blogs, podcasts, wikis and even virtual gaming sites. The list of new sites grows daily. News media are pushing the playing fields in terms of who is constructing information and who is creating, publishing, distributing and accessing information.

Alternative forums for news groups with less audience viewership are growing steadily, with hooks in everything from traditional political platforms to the latest celebrity gossip. In today’s age of instant digital information, there is no guarantee of the accuracy of the information offered. Teaching our youths to disseminate information from various sources is a fundamental goal in helping teens to value acceptable informational resources.

5. Catphishing is not taking your cat fishing

What is catphishing, you might say? Research indicates that over 70 percent of all adult users of social media are unaware of the term, its implications in their lives and the larger impact of the term in the lives of their teens. Catphishing is when a fraudulent person uses a fabricated identity to trick someone via cyber communication into a phony emotional (often romantic) relationship for the purpose of financial gain. Another possibility for catphishing (especially in teen relationships) is to lure the relationship to a point of “status” like boyfriend/girlfriend to prove someone is cheating, or for the point of bullying the unknown party or to create public shame for revenge.

Catphishing does not happen overnight. Two clear signs to help your teens see the scam easily are: A too-good-to-be-true person who is overly attractive (any profile photo is able to be Google searched for verification of identity or other matching images using Google reverse image search. Secondly, the person pretending to be someone else comes out of thin air and onto their social media map. Talking to your teens about catphishing is vital regardless of their age and digital media usage.

The best thing to remember is this: Parents need to set the standard of acceptable technology consumption. Setting an example of healthy online behaviors, investing in offline relationships, setting time limits for online experiences, using “tech-free zones” in our homes and “tech-free hours” for actual human-to-human connections is what parenting teens in a digital culture is really all about. They learn from us.

About the author: Alessandra Toscanelli is a mom of two teens, author, yoga instructor, personal trainer and life enthusiast. Contact her at

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