Parents, teens and technology

By Dr. Melissa Martin

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Tumblr, Flickr, Reddit, WhatsApp, Google, and all the other techno companies have produced products that have changed and benefited the world. Phones, apps, and the web are necessary to our daily work lives and personal lives. But, is there a dark side for teen usage?

The annual Piper Jaffray Taking Stock with Teens research survey (2017) questioned 6,100 teens across 44 states in the U.S. and found that Snapchat (a free photo and video sharing app) is their most popular social media. This company has surveyed more than 155,000 teens in 16 years. The information reveals how teens spends money on fashion, beauty and personal care, digital media, food, gaming and entertainment. I find all this data about teens to be invasive and daunting.

What are parental concerns about Snapchat? Snapchat does not save pictures and messages sent. Deleted content can be tempting for teens to misuse photos. Parents need to be involved to help prevent problems like sexting, cyberstalking, and cyberbullying.

Read the article, Everything a Parent Needs to Know About SNAPCHAT. “The FBI warns parents that pedophiles are using Snapchat to solicit images from young teens. These images are used for personal use or are sold to others in the underground world of predators…Sexting is a real concern when it comes to Snapchat…Cyberbullies love this app, because it is difficult to document cruel messages.” (

Teens and technology tantrums

I am seeing summers saturated with overusing Xbox. Parents go to work and leave teens at home with nothing to do. When school starts the teen is so obsessed with video-gaming that he explodes with anger as parents try to set limits to make time for homework, soccer practice, and other activities. Teens need time during the day to talk, socialize, play outdoors, read a book, and study.

“Problems begin when media use displaces physical activity, hands-on exploration and face-to-face social interaction in the real world, which is critical to learning. Too much screen time can also harm the amount and quality of sleep,” according to The American Academy of Pediatrics.

Parents are creating Xbox zombies who throw temper tantrums when unplugged. Kids are sneaking into their parent’s bedrooms at night, taking their cell phones and using them, and sneaking back to return it before parents wake-up. Kids are lying about how, when, and where they use devices. Teens are becoming argumentative and aggressive with parents when asked to unplug. How do I know? Because this is what teens and parents are telling me.

Answer the following questions: How much screen time is my teen getting daily, including school screen time? Does my teen become moody, irritated, or belligerent when unplugged? Does my teen hound or harass me to give in to more techno time? Does my teen stomp, slam doors, cuss, and scream when digital devices are turned off? Has my teen pushed, slammed, or assaulted me when I grounded him/her from technology devices?

Technology addiction

Can teens become addicted to technology? The debate among pediatricians, mental health professionals, educators, researchers, the scientific community, and technologists is on-going. Some say yes and others say no. Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, author of the 2016 book Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids, says yes. Others call it a habit instead of an addiction.

“Our society is being hijacked by technology. What began as a race to monetize our attention is now eroding the pillars of our society: mental health, democracy, social relationships, and our children.” Tristan Harris, founder of Center for Humane Technology, is launching a “Truth About Tech” campaign to pressure techno companies to make changes. ( Good luck with that one!

My recommendations

I recommend the following: Keep Internet-connected electronic devices out of teens’ bedrooms at night. Monitor what media they are accessing, including any Websites and social media sites.

You are the parent. It’s your job to keep kids safe from Internet predators, trolls, bullying, and porn. While I’m an advocate of communication, cooperation, negotiation, and empowering teens to make healthy decisions, I’m also an advocate for parental guidance. Allowing teens to have some privacy builds trust, but too much covert power produces problems.

Teen entitlement fallacy is the belief that they can use their smartphones (a smartphone is a handheld personal computer) anytime and anywhere they like. Owning a smartphone is a privilege and not a right.


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) developed recommendations and resources to help families balance the digital world. An online tool helps parents and teens create a personalized Family Media Use Plan. ( I examined the Family Media Use Plan and I like it.

The Common Sense report encourages a #DeviceFreeDinner campaign for screen-free dinners. The family table is a meeting place for members to talk and share daily happenings.

The takeaway

Parents, please stop using technology as a babysitter. Put your own techie phones away, turn off your Facebook, and interact with your children.

Even though technology is constantly changing, parents are still the parents, and teens are still the teens. The same parenting rules apply. Parents must set limits at an early age on the use of social media, video-gaming, and computers.

“Media should work for you and work within your family values and parenting style. When media is used thoughtfully and appropriately, media can enhance daily life. But when used inappropriately or without thought, media can displace many important activities such as face-to-face interaction, family-time, outdoor-play, exercise, unplugged downtime and sleep.” (

By Dr. Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin, Ph.D, is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist

Melissa Martin, Ph.D, is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist