Columnist

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Q:Can you write something in your column to make my parents calm down about the apps on my phone? They saw something on TV about how kids are in danger and all they do now is check my texts and my phone app use. They’re so afraid, it’s making me nervous. I’m fine. Most kids are just fine. Can you tell them that please?

15-year-old

Mary Jo’s response: My pleasure. Before we talk about apps on a phone, however, let’s talk about a recurring life phenomenon. Generational changes and technological advances are real. You are part of a unique generation (or group) of humans, born around the same time as you and growing up in a similar culture.

Researchers often discuss a “generation gap” between generations, as if one group cannot grasp the life challenges of another. There is some truth to a gap, simply due to change. Change is a constant in life, even if it makes a lot of us anxious. When change happens, we adjust or fall behind. In my opinion, it is easier to adjust to some types of changes when young.

My parents grew up in the era of radio, so my generation’s reliance on television was strange and scary to many (yes, I’m that old). My grandparents grew up in the age of horses for transportation, so cars were not only a luxury few could initially afford, but also, to some, terrifying.

In my adult children’s lives, personal computers became affordable and widespread, phones evolved from landlines to portable phones to cellphones to smartphones. Many in my generation had a “party line” where our home shared a phone line with our neighbors! When I explained this concept at our Youth Conference in 2014, a ninth-grader asked me, “But, who picked the ring tone?”

Your generation takes an in-phone computer at your fingertips for granted; when I did research for a school paper I couldn’t seek information online, but needed a card catalog at my local library.

I think change between generations and the stress it causes is as old as humanity. I love this quote attributed to Socrates, who lived a long, long time ago: “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room.” Allegedly, he despaired of these young people running the country when his generation no longer could.

Respect is shown in many ways. Perhaps the best way to respect our elders, aside from rising when they enter the room, is to listen and communicate. Dialogue is a two-way street. If your parents are reading this column, I hope they’ll talk with you about apps and not at you.

Parents and adults often generalize young people, lumping you all together as if you’re all doing drugs, having sex, and cyberbullying your peers online. Do these things happen? Certainly. I’ve dedicated my life to supporting young people, especially when they face challenges. No one is perfect; some teens make what I call “bonehead moves” they later regret. Not all teens, however. It’s important for adults to realize the vast majority of teens are simply doing their best. They do text and post and search online, but most are not putting themselves in danger, nor are they a danger to anyone else.

Here are my suggestions:

1. Have that talk. Sit down and openly, honestly, and respectfully share one another’s concerns.

2. Create a contract – a written document reflecting both your parents’ expectations for your phone behavior and your wishes for independence and autonomy.

3. Agree to consequences if the contract is broken.

4. Respect one another’s boundaries.

I realize trust can be tough; please know how difficult it is to regain trust once it is violated.

Parents, try to remember what it felt like to be 15. Did you encounter sanctions you felt were unwarranted for your behavior? Did anyone really listen to you? Picture how an open conversation might have helped. Imagine your teen as a co-worker and strive to keep your tone respectful.

Finally, I’d like to speak to your parents’ fear. Even if it’s inexplicable to you, I need to share how very much most parents love their children. You come to us as vulnerable babies and evolve from toddlers and little ones to become young adults. In many parents’ eyes, you are still those small children in need of protection. Do you need support? Definitely. Adolescence isn’t easy. Can you be empowered to find your own power and independence. Totally.

If you think of love as the force behind your parents’ fear, it may be easier to bear.

Keep in touch. You’re a person of worth. You’ve got this!

Peer Educator response: It does get better. We don’t always get along with our parents either, and most of us feel we are overprotected. The older we get the more they seem to relax. We don’t think they should check texts or messages unless a teen has messed up. Respecting privacy is important.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email at podmj@healthyteens.com.

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