If parents want to communicate with their teens, they should listen to them more – and enter their technological world, Nicole Rice says.
“I’ve been teaching 28 years … I spend six hours a day with teens,” she said. “If (parents) sat and listened, they would learn new things about their child every time they talk. Prepare to be blown away. They won’t realize all their teen is doing.”
Rice is a high school technology teacher and the director of technology at Cincinnatus Central School. She also runs a work-study program with four to six teens in the summer, training teens in the ways of computers while they get school classrooms ready for the school year.
The COVID-19 pandemic showed Rice a generational divide as she worked to get parents and teens up to speed on technology so they could do school work via computer.
She wrote a book to address it: “Does Your Teen Talk: No, but they Text, Snap & Tik Tok — 10 subjects every parent should ask their TEEN to get them TALKING more in a digital world.”
The self-published book is available for Amazon Kindle, on Amazon by paperback and at Audible.com. Parents can email Rice at email@example.com for a code that will allow them to listen to the book for free.
Rice started writing it in March 2020 and finished it a year later; it came out May 5.
“Teaching on Zoom, I was providing technology support to a few hundred parents. I am the one that distributes all the Chrome books. I would have a kid or teen on the screen and a parent behind them. They were learning to help, with the kids,” she said. She would hear the kids say, “My parents don’t get it!”
“And a dad or mom would be saying, ‘I can’t talk to my teen. Things have changed. I don’t understand technology. I don’t know how to log on.’”
The kids begged Rice to teach their parents how to use technology. She saw two generations struggling to talk. This inspired her to write the book.
“The main thing — don’t freak out,” Rice said. “It’s not about talking, but more about listening to what they need.”
Rice got to know parents during the pandemic better than all her 28 years of teaching — through Zoom.
When teenagers are glued to their phone like it’s an appendage, the parents think the kids aren’t paying attention, she said.
They use different apps, too. Teens are on SnapChat, Tik Tok and Instagram while their parents are on Facebook, she said.
Don’t fight them, Rice said. Join them.
“That’s how you are going to reach them. Send them a quick SnapChat. Do a Tik Tok dance.”
SnapChat sends photos to another person that eventually disappears. Tik Tok allows people to share videos.
“Instead of saying, ‘Put the technology down,’ join them. There’s a 100% chance your teen will see or read your text. They may not answer your telephone, but they are going to communicate through Snap and text.”
National statistics say 95% of adolescents age 13 to 18 have access to a smartphone. And 88% have access to a desktop or laptop computer at home, reports Jacqueline Nesi in “The Impact of Social Media on Youth Mental Health: Challenges and Opportunities.”
About 85% percent of teens use YouTube, 72% use Instagram, 69% use SnapChat and 51% use Facebook.
Social media is the perfect tool for what a teen wants to do: connect with friends, be independent from adults, and explore their identity, the North Carolina Medical Journal reported in March 2020.
Social media could pose a problem if teens compare themselves with others, if they become victims of cyberbullies or if they lose sleep or mimic risky behavior they see online.
But LGBTQ teens or kids with mental-health issues might otherwise feel isolated. They can find a community on social media, the journal reports. And it allows creativity and connection.
Experts from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology in a “Social Media and Teens” March 2018 article suggest:
- Depending on the child’s age or maturity, follow the child’s social media with an agreement about when you will, or won’t respond to a post.
- Having periods of no screen times.
- Limiting personal information online.
“With the prevalence of technology, this is a great topic,” said Barb Henza, an educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County about Rice’s book. “Any parent would be glad to have that.”
She runs a session to help parents going through separation or divorce. While she doesn’t tackle parenting issues on technology, she says her grown daughter dragged her into the world of technology.
“I was reluctant to get a cell phone. I was reluctant to text,” she said.
But if she wanted to communicate easily with her daughter in Texas, a cell phone would help. “There were times she wanted to send a quick comment,” said Henza. And times when Henza wanted to reach out to her.
“Our kids do pull us into this,” she said.
Rice says parents will get an answer within three minutes from their teen, using texting and other messaging formats.
Get familiar with it.
“Send a text, ‘What do you want on your pizza?’ … You know they have a big test coming up. Send a quick text: ‘Good luck on the test.’”
Skip the big lecture on the importance of the math test, she said. If a child starts typing on a cell phone, that’s a teen venting to other teens about the lecture, right at that moment.
If a parent sees a teen looking away or texting, stop talking, Rice said.
“The biggest thing you can do with a teen is listen. They are trying to survive life,” she said. “They are on social media several hours a day. They are seeing the best posts and highlight reels by people who are well known; they may think, ‘my life is boring.’ They need parents to come through and say ‘You are a good person. You are fun.’ They need validation.”
Do a photo bomb on a simple family road trip, she said. “Make it fun. Parents can get so involved.”
She has ideas to get teens talking more: Get them together with friends and listen.
Rice says parents can get tech savvy with technology by meeting with a friend who has the social media format already. Make an account with SnapChat or Instagram. Then reach out to the child.
Technology is not a problem, she said, just be careful about what they post and watch.
“Technology is their link to the world,” Rice said. “When they post that picture in a bathing suit, it’s time to talk: ‘Let’s wait till you are older.’”
“The number one thing for a parent to do is to know what they are doing with technology,” she said.
Check their screen time on the phone. Is it four hours a day? Eight hours a day? Talk to them: ‘Don’t sleep with the phone under the pillow.”
Rice communicates all the time via text, talking face-to-face on the phone and SnapChat. She and her crew are all over the school building, setting up equipment. They don’t have time to gather face to face.
“Set the example you want,” she said of technology use in the home. “Hey, let’s take a challenge and all put our phones up,” she said.
But the parent should, too. Parents shouldn’t assume their job is more important and thus have access to their phone while denying a teen their cell phone, Rice said. “The key to handling technology is respect.”