When I work in middle schools throughout the country on digital health and well-being, one prompt I often give in our workshops is to name and describe their Askable Adult. An Askable Adult is a trusted adult in their lives who helps to take care of them. Hands fly up as they proudly share the names and character strengths of those adults. Usually later in the evening, during a parent presentation, I’ll tell the grownups about their child’s gushing and they never believe how much their middle school child values and respects them. It’s sometimes hard to know where we stand day-to-day, but our young people are proud of us. And they really need us — especially to support the healthy development of their life online.
During middle school, social relationships start to become primary for our children. They want to be connected on screens and away from screens as much as possible. They want to start building autonomy and agency in their lives and decisions. Though it may seem that they are growing up and away from us, they need us more than ever. They need us as mentors and guides. They need boundaries and expectations. They need a lot of opportunities for trying and learning. They will see (use, share, say) inappropriate content at some point. So the discussion isn’t just about “what if” and more about “when”. How have we prepared them for this reality of life online?
One key component — I call it the seatbelt of digital parenting — is to be an Askable Adult. A child or teen who has one trusted adult to talk to, process, and learn from in their lives will be set up for healthier social and emotional development and experiences online. Being an Askable Adult is an important job.
Here are four tools for becoming a good Askable Adult.
- Show me. Tell me. Teach me. Be willing to be a student. Come onto your child’s planet. Get to know their world and be curious about their experiences on the screen in the same way you would be curious about their lives away from the screen.
- Even if I don’t like it, I can handle it. It is unreasonable to expect perfection from our children. Knowing mistakes are a healthy and normal part of adolescent development, we can settle some of our anxieties and focus our energy towards supporting our children through their tough choices and confusing times.
- I understand. I can relate. I have felt that way, too. Humanizing yourself builds a bridge to trust and understanding. When a child or teen feels that their feelings and experiences are normal, they feel less alone. When an adult they love and respect has had challenges too, that builds an important bridge to connection.
- You are not alone. This is more than just a phrase we speak, but an actionable way of life.
Your child’s relationship with you is a critical component to their digital health and well-being. As a mother of five children ages 13 to 22, when I feel overwhelmed by tech, the relational focus helps me center myself and regain my confidence. We can teach our values, boundaries, and expectations while allowing our children to have positive experiences online — even when online (and offline) isn’t always perfect.