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Your Teen and the Internet

internet.gifDo you remember the old Star Trek television shows and those futuristic gadgets they used to communicate with each other? It seemed so far-fetched at the time, but today it is mostly a reality and deeply ingrained in our culture, especially among teenagers. My concern is that while teens have more ways to communicate than ever before, they are increasingly failing to “connect” in their relationships. Relationships become more shallow than they could have been if more time were spent sharing thoughts and ideas, and having discussion face-to-face.

Young people today seem to rely more on text-messaging, instant messaging, e-mailing, and their own web pages to communicate. I’ve even watched teens sit in the same room and send one another text messages without ever stopping to talk to one another face to face. And I’ve observed the effect on teens who are “dumping” more and listening to each other less.

My point is that while there is value in all these new creative communications toys, they may preclude the development of some valuable old communications tools that are a useful part of growing up. In a culture that nurtures self-expression, mostly relying on these devices to communicate creates a terrible habit of conversation that is shallow and one that encourages self-expression stretched to unimaginable limits.

The anonymity of the Internet, for example, provides freedom to proclaim fantasies, criticisms, and false images of oneself. I’m amazed at how teens present themselves on Internet social networks like MySpace today. I call it “digital courage.” Kids get online and write things they would never say or do face-to-face. I’m equally amazed by how trashy their language and posted images become.

Now, the Internet, when used properly, can be a good thing, but digital courage doesn’t do much to help a teen know how to operate on a deeply personal level. And the misrepresentation of one’s character online by others can lead to feuds and mistrust in relationships. When a teenager is talked about unkindly online, for the whole world to see, it can lead to despair and even thoguhts of suicide, as we’ve seen in recent news stories.

I have always viewed e-mail and blogging as a complement to how I already communicate. But , I avoid misrepresenting the facts and I don’t use it as a weapon. Moreover, I do not use it as my only way to communicate. I by far spend the majority of my time communicating one-on-one. That emphasis on honesty and face-to-face dialogue is what we need to get across to our teens.

For parents, I recommend this . . . help your teen learn to communicate by truly connecting one-on-one with others in their world. Ask them to give their digital communications a rest for a period of time so they can catch up with their friends on a deeper level. Teach your teen to be consistent in how they represent themselves, keeping it real, both online and in person. And put daily limits on the amount of time your teen participates in online social networking. Instead, find ways to encourage every form of real-life social interaction.

So, How Are YOU Doing?

Throughout my life my batteries are most charged by interaction with families. So, will you drop me a line to tell me how I can help you? What are your questions? What are your concerns and heartaches? What are your stories? Let’s start a dialogue, though a digital one for now, about ways that we can better serve your family’s needs and help a teenager you know. Please write me today at

ONE-HOUR RADIO PROGRAM ON THIS TOPIC: For more on Your Teen and the Internet, tune in this weekend (March 1 or 2) to Heartlight Radio or hear the program online at with special guest, Jason Illian, author of My Space, My Kids.

HOST BIO: Mark Gregston is a bestselling author, national radio host, and the founder of the Heartlight Residential Center for Struggling Teens ( More teen parenting articles can be found in his blog at

radio.jpgMark Gregston’s new daily radio feature, Parenting Today’s Teens, is now heard nationwide in almost every city via hundreds of radio stations. For more information, please visit or to hear today’s program online, click here.

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.