The Richmond Register

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January 4, 2014

Tech devices can bring teens, parents together

RICHMOND — Presents have been opened with wrapping paper cast aside in heaps on the floor.

Many of the most desired presents kids and teens received this holiday season were gaming systems, iPods, and smart phones. They will quickly become ensconced behind their new screens and devote much of their holiday break in trying to master the subtleties of their new gaming systems or downloading new apps for their phones.

While a quiet household can be a relief after all of the stress associated with the holiday season, it can also be a perfect opportunity to open the lines of communication between you and your child or adolescent.

Getting older children and adolescents to open up about their interests and what is going on in their lives can be difficult. One exceptions is when they are mastering a new tech device and they are excited to show what they can do on it. They may even go so far as to invite parents to play a game with them.

Parents’ willingness to engage with their children and adolescents about what technology they use and how it works serves a couple of different purposes.

The first is that is allows parents to become more knowledgeable about what games and apps their kids and teens are using. Many parents have been quite surprised that gaming systems allow interactions with other people. The latest gaming systems even allow users to record their interactions during game play and upload them to YouTube.

In addition, there are many smartphone apps that allow interactions with others including popular social network apps like SnapChat, Instagram and Twitter.

As children and adolescents share what their games and apps are capable of doing with their parents, it can serve as an opening to talk about issues such as internet safety, online civility, and cyberbullying.

A second purpose is that engaging in an activity that older children and adolescents enjoy takes the pressure off both sides in having to talk about something. Yet topics that are important to them inevitably come up.

This can provide additional insight into children and adolescents’ lives that would not come up ordinarily. Even if nothing of seeming importance results from the conversation, it can be the first step in establishing an on-going rapport that can be the key later on when something significant is happening in their lives.

While it is unlikely that parents can keep up with all of the games, apps, and electronic devices that are available for kids and teens, they can make an effort in knowing about what their children and adolescents use.

The resulting interactions can strengthen communication and make children and adolescents more willing to come to their parents when they confront issues that they can’t deal with on their own.

An additional bonus is that parents may find that some of the new apps or games are something that they enjoy too!

Dan Florell, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Eastern Kentucky University and has a private practice, MindPsi (www.mindpsi.net). Praveena Salins, M.D., is a pediatrician at Madison Pediatric Associates (www.madisonpeds.com). 

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