We’re accustomed to critiquing the media, especially when it comes to adolescent girls. We can point to it as a cause of low self-esteem and poor body image. We can lament the fact that ever-present smartphones, tablets, and laptops distract young women from the kinds of in-person interactions we know form the foundation for life’s greatest lessons and experiences. And yes, we must take steps to limit excessive or unhealthy media use among teens.
However, at a time when media is more accessible and influential than ever in the lives of younger generations, we can also capitalize on its advantages. Here are four ways to help your teenage daughter get more from the media:
1. Capitalize on teachable moments.
Life experiences are learning experiences. Dr. Richard Weissbourd, author of The Parents We Mean to Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development, believes that watching TV with young people provides opportunities to open up communication.
The media girls consume often references relationship dynamics and social scenarios they encounter in their daily lives, while also offering you an opportunity to discuss topics that would otherwise not come up naturally in parent-child conversations. For example, if you have a chance to sit down and watch a show like Pretty Little Liars with your daughter, try to engage her in discussion around issues that appear in the narrative.
If you observe bullying behavior, gossiping, or risk behaviors like drinking or casual sex in the story, ask her about it and offer your perspective on the issue. You may feel awkward at first, and you may get a “stop trying to be my cool friend” reaction. Stick with it. Uncomfortable conversations are often the most important.
2. Frame it as a trusted resource.
Adolescent development is a fast-paced process of social, emotional, and physical changes. Teenagers often feel overwhelmed, confused, and alone, and even those with strong community supports can sometimes feel they have nowhere to turn. The thought of talking to you or going to another knowing adult for help with sensitive issues relating to relationships, bullying, or sexual health can be embarrassing.
Encourage your teen to use trusted websites and publications as informational resources. Don’t worry that you are replacing yourself. Instead, think of media resources as informing offline interactions, including your daughter’s conversations with you. Educationally-minded websites like SexEtc, Boston Children’s Hospital and YoungWomensHealth.org, or (my own) ShimmerTeen.com are good starting points.
3. Encourage media use for skill-building.
Suggest some apps your daughter can use to be productive—even when she’s procrastinating. Apps like Duolingo for foreign language enrichment and Evernote for organizational skills provide growth opportunities on the go.
You can download apps first to see how they work. You can also check out reviews and suggestions just for parents on the website of Common Sense Media, a non-profit dedicated to providing quality information about technology and media.
4. Inspire community engagement.
Online awareness campaigns are popular among Millennials, and teens have countless opportunities (literally at their fingertips) to get involved. Organizations like DoSomething and She’s the First mobilize teens through social media and inspire world-changing action both on- and offline. Positive online interactions benefit all teens, but they can be especially helpful for those struggling socially in their existing peer groups.
Have you used any of these tips? Do you think the media enriches your daughter’s life? Tell us in the comments.