At Shelterwood, we see the toll unlimited tech and social media access can have on teens. Unhealthy technology practices can trigger or worsen mental health struggles like depression and anxiety. They can exacerbate bullying, and leave kids feeling like there’s no safe place to escape from peer pressure and social stressors. 

Shelterwood’s staff spends a lot of time helping teens process their relationships with technology. As therapist Melissa Winston explained in a previous blog post, it usually takes students a while to adjust to Shelterwood’s limited-tech environment. Teens have to learn to sit with their feelings instead of turning to on-screen distractions. 

A lot of what we do is pressing in,” says Melissa. “We sit in those uncomfortable feelings and talk about what caused them. How did we get here? What do we do to manage them?” 

Those conversations are invaluable. But parents shouldn’t wait until their children are in crisis to talk about how to use technology in positive, life-giving ways. 

START (Stand Together and Rethink Technology) is a Kansas City-based nonprofit that uses tech conversations as the centerpiece of their approach. Shelterwood has interviewed START’s director of communications on the blog before, and we remain big fans of the nonprofit’s tips and tools

The organization brings parents together—in real life—to talk about their families’ issues with technology. And it also teaches parents how to have important conversations about technology with their children. 

START advocates for a “digital drivers ed” approach to helping kids use technology safely:

    • Ride: Parents model responsible tech use, have important conversations about technology (and life!) with their children, and research the tech and apps their children want to use.
    • Practice: With healthy limits and lots of check-ins along the way, parents help their children learn to use tech/apps in healthy ways. 
    • Drive: Parents trust their children to interact with the tech/apps with more freedom while being there to offer “roadside assistance.” 

Recently, START released two in-depth app guides: TikTok Driver’s Ed and Snapchat Driver’s Ed. They give caregivers a deep dive into these popular apps’ histories, functions, upsides, and potential dangers. They also list important conversation topics and questions to ask to help your teen think through how to use these apps in a healthy way. 

For both TikTok and Snapchat, START recommends making sure you’ve had conversations about some very big topics before negotiating app use, including: 

  • Pornography and sexting
  • Online safety and privacy
  • Cyberbullying
  • Comparison and Self Image
  • Digital footprints’ permanence

During the “Ride” phases, START encourages parents to spend time understanding why your child wants to use the app and interview older teens about their experiences with the app. 

In addition to a list of ways parents can limit the app during the “Practice” phase, the guides also include check-in questions to help parents and teens talk about how the app experiment is going. 

Finally, the guides break down everything parents need to know about the apps for the “Drive” phase: terminology, how-tos, features and even emergency FAQs (“How do I delete an account?” “My child is sexting! Now what?!”)

We highly recommend downloading these informative guides—and starting some important tech conversations with your teen. 

Do you know a teen struggling with unhealthy social media habits? Talk to one of our admissions counselors about how Shelterwood can help.