4 chats to have with your girls about tech, starting now in the pre-teen years!

Written by Fiona Ghiglione, PhD

As our girls edge towards the teen years likelihood is she has begun asking for a phone or perhaps already has stepped into that virtual space! Either way, it is never too early to begin preparing our girls for the responsibility that comes with having a phone.

Despite what we may think, getting a device is in many ways like getting the keys to drive a car. Being able to safely and responsibly manage this new tool requires a set of well-practiced skills. In the case of new phones three important ones are: self-awareness, self-regulation (and self-control).

Luckily, there are many things we can do now to help our girls sharpen those skills especially in relation to technology. And the best way to do this is through conversation – yep, real-life, back and forth, question and answer conversation with her.

So, carve out some one-on-one time or find some fitting moments in your days to get these conversations going. Even if they don’t go as planned – you’re giving it a shot and I promise you, some of the info will be pondered on and absorbed!

Conversation #1: Self-Checks

Right now, in the pre-teen years, we still have some control over what our girls watch or how they use their tech. Slowly, however, as she grows, she will assume more responsibility to decide when and where she uses it. If we want her to make healthy choices she needs to build an awareness over how technology affects her – in both healthy and unhealthy ways.

We can start now to help our girls by encouraging regular reflection. For example ask her: how does it make you feel being on your phone/iPad? How does scrolling feel? How does seeing pictures of your friends posing feel? How do your eyes feel after staring at a screen all day? You’re back after sitting on a computer? What does it feel like to take time away from the screen to do things outside? How do you know when you’ve had too much tech?

The more awareness she has of the interplay between tech and her body the better she’ll be of noticing toxic tech and early stress symptoms and regulate. And the more she will learn what balance means for her.

Conversation #2. Phubbing

Have you eve heard of the word phubbing? Phubbing is defined by the Macquarie dictionary as the act of snubbing someone you are talking with in person in favour of your phone or device. It literally means phone snubbing. Society today has a very high tolerance of phubbing – we see it now in restaurants with whole families on their devices waiting for dinner, or with children and mums. We’ve all done it in some way and our awareness of it happening can vary widely.

Why is it important? As our girls get older this behaviour will become more prevalent and harder to break.

Teach your girls that people are always more important than tech. 

Ask her what it feels like when someone prefers to check their phone rather than listen to her?  If we want good relationships and people in our lives we need to nurture those moments and put our phones down. As parents we need to show her this. 

Conversation #3: Putting it down!

Talk with her about the importance of putting down our devices and carving out special tech-free moments during the day. Here are moments we can help our girls start with:

#1: Walking/Driving places. Help her see that when you’re walking or driving it isn’t a good time to check your phone. Not only is it safer (especially when crossing the road or being alert while driving) but it is also a moment to be mindful, notice your surroundings and relax before school, work, home and make a transition between different parts of your day.

#2: Meal times. Research shows that eating mindfully helps improve digestion and helps us enjoy our food more. It is also an important time to cultivate relationships and help our girls practice conversational skills.

#3: 1 hour before bed.  We know that too much tech before bed can affect our girls circadian rhythms and affect quality of sleep. Several well-designed studies have shown that delayed onset of melatonin can occur with tech use before bed.

Conversation #4: Our words matter

Talk with her about how our words live on online far longer than just the moment we send them (yes even snapchat) AND can have a real impact on people. Teach her to begin thinking about her words. She owns her words and they reflect on who she is in the world. Before speaking or texting get her to practice asking herself:

Is what I am about to say:

True? Kind? Helpful? Inspiring? The right time? Best coming from me? Something I’d say to the person face to face?  

The most potent combination for helping our girls learn these skills is conversation + experience + role-modelling. So let’s start this early mama, so these healthy regulation techniques can become habit! 

If you liked this article and would like to hear more about raising pre-teen girls, please visit Mothering Girls on Instagram or contact Fiona on fiona@motheringgirls.com to find out about upcoming courses.