Smart Parenting

Ask the Experts by Lori Warner, PhD

Q: My daughter’s school has an online “parent portal” where I can see all her grades and assignments. How often should I be checking it? What should I do if I see something is missing?

A: Some schools limit updates and give families and students guidelines of how best to use this tool. Helping your daughter take ownership of and responsibility for her own learning experience and relationships with teachers is crucial. When we swoop in and “handle” something for our children, rather than discussing, supporting, and coaching them through handling it themselves, we communicate to them that we don’t think they can do it. The exact frequency of checking the portal is up to you, but multiple checks per day is likely excessive and will lead to stress for you, your daughter, and her teachers.

Q: My son is constantly on his phone: texting friends, watching videos, posting on social media. I’ve heard about kids using secret messaging or social media accounts. Should I be worried?

A: Social media is no substitute for social interaction “IRL” (in real life)! Research finds that increased social media use correlates with lower self-esteem and higher physical and mental health issues. It may be “downward social comparison”: we think that others are happier, more attractive, or more successful than we are. Remember, we are viewing through a selective lens online, and compare what we see there with our knowledge of the real ups and downs of our own life. As for secret accounts, they can occur, though they are not typically as dramatic as you may see in the media. However, many useful and interesting things are available online, and there is nothing inherently wrong with interacting with the digital world. Make sure real-time relationships, daily responsibilities, and activities are emphasized, balancing screen time and real-world “face” time! The best way to deal with your concern is to connect with your teenager and keep communication lines open.

Q: When I was a kid, no one had smart phones or online maps. Somehow, we survived! Now, I can pinpoint the exact location of my kids’ phones, I’m notified if they are late for class or absent, and it feels like every small detail of their lives gets posted online for everyone to see. How can I help them be self-sufficient yet safe, and not over-rely on my oversight?

A: This can be a tough path to navigate! With so much information available, we may feel pulled or even obligated to constantly check up on our child. Each family must make its own decisions about how to use online grade portals, locating apps, how much to monitor social media or browser histories, what sites, movies, or shows to limit, etc. There is no one right answer, but we can set our kids up for success so that if the map app is incorrect, or they have a concern about a grade, there is no cell service, or their phone dies, they know how to handle the situation without the use of a smart phone or computer. I sometimes make a joke about learning how to do it “the old-fashioned way” just in case, and I keep a paper map in my car!

Dr. Warner is a clinical psychologist, Board Certified Behavior Analyst, Director of the Center for Human Development and the Ted Lindsay Foundation HOPE Center at Beaumont Children’s and Associate Professor for Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine. She can be reached at 248-691-4744 or visit Beaumont Health is a member of the Family Center’s Association of Professionals.

Smart Parenting: When Does Normal Monitoring Become Unhealthy Prying?
April 17, 2019
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