Using Technology and Community to Navigate the Teen Years

Using Technology and Community to Navigate the Teen Years

You are laying the foundation for a future adult relationship with your child. The teen years are a time of dramatic change in both body and behavior. Most people successfully navigate the transition from family dependence to becoming a self-sufficient adult. However, these years are also fraught with challenge. As children hit puberty, adolescent hormones affect judgment and feelings. They are no longer our babies, but not yet adults. In short, they are desperately trying to understand the world around them and find their place in it.

Previously confident children become argumentative, sullen, insecure, and often exercise poor judgment; it’s as though you are living with a stranger. The physical changes are conspicuous and easy to deal with. The transformation of the teen brain however, is visible only through the observation of new and different behavior.

By its very nature, adolescence demands independence and an opportunity for the teen to stretch their wings. Giving them more independence is likely to garner you – the parent – more respect.  When in actuality it is also a time of hyper-vigilance on the part of the parent.

As homeschoolers, we are more aware than most that a teen’s motivation to learn through informal ways sets the stage for them to become lifelong learners. This allows us the unique opportunity to guide them through the difficult years without being intrusive or overbearing, and allows us to maintain supervision in a more discrete manner.

The key to navigating the teen years may lie more in community and technology than the home front. Though our children may be more technologically advanced than many of us, and certainly spend more screen time, they are likely not spending that time well. Studies have shown that on-line communities as well as other teen favored technology such as social media and video games can in fact be helpful in helping them determine their identities.

They need constant reassurance. This is also the time they become more social and learn how to best interact with others. Play to these needs and use their developing passions to guide them.

On-Line Activities

With increased use of social media it is easy to assume that teens are expanding their learning opportunities through the relationships they form online. Peyina Lin from the University of Washington and Shelly Farnham from FUSE Labs at Microsoft Research conducted a study on teens’ informal leaning networks which showed that teens do not generally interact with new people outside of their immediate social networks of friends, family, and school.

A sense of relatedness played a major role in who they engaged with online. If they did not feel an emotional connection, they were far less likely to reach out to pursue learning beyond their familiar networks. Of course the study did not address online safety which is of the utmost importance in expanding their social circle. The answer may be in helping our teens to find safe online communities that feed their passions and introduce them to others who share similar interests.

  1. If you belong to a private online group of homeschoolers, consider setting up a tween or teen group online for the children of your group. This can be done by age or by interest if your child is willing to help you create the group.
  2. Suggest social media pages that are relevant to your children’s learning or passions.

Video Games

Video games really can promote positive development in children. While most researchers will agree that violent video games can negatively impact adolescent behavior, researchers at Brock University in Ontario, Canada asserted that “Playing video games can foster initiative in youth and may be related to improving positive outcomes such as problem solving, positive social behavior, and cooperation.”  97% of U.S. adolescents ages 8-18 play video games an average of 13.2 hours per week.

So how do we use this power for good?

  1. Look for games that display positive heroic qualities and strengths and illustrate positive messages such as teamwork, concentration, and perseverance.
  2. Review video games before purchasing. Common Sense Media has a special review section that includes rating scores for positive images, positive role models and violence.
  3. Show interest in the games they play and watch them all the way through. You can talk about character strength and weakness. This will aid them in transferring their knowledge of those characters to the real world.

Social Opportunities Outside the Home

In addition to circumnavigating the screen time land mines, it is equally important to encourage your children to form new and healthy “in real life” communities beyond their comfort zone.

  1. Find opportunities to further your teens’ interests. Whether it’s a robotics team, a local archaeology dig, or volunteering somewhere, these opportunities will allow your teen to meet others of a similar interest thus giving him the opportunity to develop his social skills.
  2. Consider participation in sports. Not only do they get much needed exercise, but sports teach them about social interaction and achievement of goals. If your child is not a team sport kind of kid, try fencing or boxing. You can develop lessons around their chosen sport. For example, if your soccer minded teen wants nothing to do with his geometry lesson, encourage him to create a model of the playing field in Geometric Expressions.
  3. Encourage creative outlets. Tweens and Teens need an outlet for their thoughts and even their frustrations. Art classes, creative writing courses, and even things like apprenticing with a glass blower or metalworker are great outlets for their creative juices.
  4. Do not over schedule your teen. Rather, work with them to develop a schedule that work well for everyone and allow them the freedom of some self scheduled time.

Teens test boundaries. By stretching the limits of those boundaries, you not only provide your kids with the skills they need in the real world, but you also provide opportunities they might not otherwise benefit from if they were in a traditional school setting. More that is built on trust and cooperation. You are giving them the gift of wonderful childhood memories!



About Marcy Guyer

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