Parenting in the information age is daunting
BY BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer
Saturday, November 24, 2012
11/24/12 at 6:08 AM
Many parents of teens are overwhelmed by today's rapidly changing technology, creating an environment that can have profound effects on their children, says teen culture specialist Robert Smith.
Smith, who will speak in Tulsa next week, said parents today face issues unheard of in earlier generations: video game addiction, pornography available on cell phones, Facebook bullying, online sexual predators and sexting (sending inappropriate material in text messages). "Our kids have access on the Internet on their cell phones to all kinds of content at the touch of a button, anytime they want it," he said.
Smith, who ministers to teens and to their parents, said he wants to help people understand what teens are dealing with. He doesn't buy into a doom and gloom mentality about today's teens.
"There are lots of great and positive things to be said about this generation," he said. And he doesn't think technology is evil. "It's just how we decide to use it," he said.
But parents today need to be aware of what is going on, he said. "Parenting goes beyond where you allow your kid to spend the night. As a parent, you have to understand the dangers that come with technology.
"From all that I read, gaming is the fastest-growing addiction among teenagers," he said, and games are available on smartphones.
According to a Harris Poll, 10 percent of people between the age of 8 and 18 are suffering from family, social, school, or psychological harm because of video game addiction.
Addicted teens in the study were twice as likely to suffer from attention deficit disorders as other teens and were more likely to have poorer grades and to steal to support their habit. They played an average of 24 hours a week, twice that of non-addicted gamers, and likely had games in their bedrooms.
Smith said parents should not tell their teens that all video games are evil but that they don't want them to spend five hours playing games because they want to spend some of that time with them.
He said all major video game systems have parental controls to block graphic language, violence and nudity.
Another concern is sexting, he said, sending sexually explicit photos in text messages.
"It's pretty common, 30 to 40 percent of teens have either sent or received illicit messages," he said.
"Students don't realize the ramifications of this," he said, which can include arrest if the photo is of an under-aged teen, and humiliation when a photo is widely distributed.
An Ohio girl committed suicide after nude photos she had texted to her boyfriend were spread around her school.
Smith said teens have easy access to pornography online, and the average age for first pornography exposure is 10 years old.
Pornography addiction acquired in the teen years doesn't go away, even into marriage, he said; and it gives boys a skewed view of the opposite sex.
"For our girls, they're taught that sex is a currency, something they can use to get attention from guys," he said.
According to an ABC News report, signs of pornography addiction can include depression, poor school performance, self-isolation and lying.
Smith said parents also need to talk to their daughters about the danger of sexual predators on the social media.
"If your kid is on Facebook," he said, "you need to have their user name and password and be able to check their information any time you need to."
Smith recommends using parental controls on smartphones, gaming systems, televisions and computers.
But his primary advice to parents is to have an ongoing conversation with their children about what a healthy media diet looks like.
"Conversation is huge," he said. "Cell phones are a privilege, especially for 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds. I would tell my kids, 'I'm not going to snoop through your stuff every day, but if I feel like there's danger, I will look at your cell phone. I'm doing this because it's part of my responsibility to take care of you.' "
He said the conversation needs to start when the children are young and continue through their teen years.
"If the issue comes up when the kids are 16 or 17, and mom and dad go in and try to establish some boundaries, the kids will freak out. If it's been a part of the culture in the home, it won't be that big a deal.
"I think there's a lot of potential with this generation," he said. "I think they're hungry and they're thirsty. They're willing to try anything.
"That's why we see a lot of this. It's a way for them to get attention, to build relationships. ... If moms and dads as mentors don't leverage that, they'll go elsewhere."
What: Parenting seminar: Indifference is not an Option - Media Smart for Parents
Who: Teen culture specialist Robert Smith
When: 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. Dec. 1
Where: Parkview Baptist Church, 5805 S. Sheridan Road.
For more information: Call 918 494-3755, or go to tulsaworld.com/upsidedownministries
Who is Robert Smith?
Robert Smith, Lawton, is a former youth pastor at First Baptist Church, Madill.
Realizing he had minimal effect on young people's lives compared to their parents, he left that position to start Upside Down Ministries to equip parents to understand the youth culture.
He speaks widely at churches, camps and conferences across the nation on the teen culture, and also continues to minister to teens.
He writes for Lifeway's national Parenting Teens magazine, a Baptist publication.
He and his wife have one daughter, who is almost 3.
Bill Sherman 918-581-8398
Teen culture specialist Robert Smith makes a point at a recent conference. Smith will speak in Tulsa on Dec. 1. Courtesy