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When Smart Phones Contribute to Dumb Choices

So often parents come to my office concerned and shocked about something their teenager did online. Perhaps it was creating a fake social media account or sexting (sending sexually explicit photograph or messages via a mobile phone). Parents ask, “What were they thinking?!”.

Teenagers have a false sense of security and privacy on their phone. Just as the would be shocked if a best friend told their secrets, they are shocked when their online/phone behavior is exposed. The constant “likes” and feedback loops reinforce sending out information they would not do in person. Also, teenagers don’t always make good decisions, and there is a scientific reason for that. The frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for thinking before we act, is still maturing. It finishes development in early adulthood.

On to the more important question to ask is “What can I do to prevent my teen from making poor choices with their phone?” There are two paths to take. One, you can increase security on their phones using apps like ESPE Parent safety and TeenSafe. They help control information sent to and from the phone. But the truth is teens are smart and more tech savvy than most parents, so they will probably figure out a way around the security measures.

So the more important step is to talk to them to help the realize that their online / phone experiences impact their real-life experiences. Remind them that nothing online is ever completely private. Use open-ended questions to help encourage them to identify their own value system of what they think is appropriate online or phone behavior. Help them analyze how they would handle various online / phone scenarios, ex: “what would you do if someone sent you an inappropriate video? What would you do if you were in a group chat that said something hateful or racist?” The more they can think through what they would do in those instances, the better choices they will make in the moment. #smartphones #teenagers #mentalhealth #parenting #sexting #socialmedia

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