A Parent’s Guide to Raising a “Digital Native”

Disclosure :: This post is sponsored by the Episcopal School of Baton Rouge.

A Parent’s Guide to Raising a “Digital Native”

Snapchat. Instagram. iMessage. YouTube. Fortnite. These media and gaming platforms are all part of daily life for many teenagers, readily accessible at any time, day or night, from smartphones, laptops, and other devices. A 2018 Pew Research Center survey indicated that 95% of teens have access to a smartphone. 45% reported they are online “almost constantly,” and another 44% said they are online “several times a day.” Teens reported using Snapchat (35%), YouTube (32%), and Instagram (15%) most often, and 97% of teenage boys reported playing video games (Anderson & Jiang, 2018). How has technology and media use become so pervasive for teens?

Children and teens today are the first generation of “digital natives,” a term created by Marc Prensky to describe individuals who have grown up with the pervasive presence of technology in their lives (2001).

They are used to receiving information quickly and prefer to parallel process, e.g., listening to music while doing homework. They are also more responsive to instant and frequent rewards (Prensky, 2001). This may explain the appeal of many social media platforms and games, which are designed to “hook” teens. For example, Snapchat has a feature called “Snapstreaks,” which requires Snapchat friends to exchange photos daily for three days to start a “streak.” The gaming phenomenon, Fortnite, taps into the  “near miss” phenomenon – “Instead of feeling as if they’ve lost, players may feel as if they’ve nearly won,” and they keep playing with the belief they will win the next game (Damour, 2018). This is similar to the experience of gambling, which was recently added to the DSM-5 as a potential type of addiction.    

Technology is impacting cognitive functioning of children particularly in the areas of attention and focus, decision making, and memory and learning. For example, technology impacts the way the brain attends to information when reading. Author Nicholas Carr uses the metaphor of scuba diving versus jet skiing to describe this difference. Book reading is similar to scuba diving, involving deeper concentration at a slower-pace, allowing the individual to think deeply about the small amount of content being presented at the time. Surfing the Internet, on the other hand, is more like jet skiing, quickly skimming across a broad surface of a large amount of content and surrounded by distractions (Taylor, 2012).

As technology and social media have become more ubiquitous in the lives of teens, it has become an ever-increasing topic in my conversations with students and their parents.

How can parents help their digital natives navigate the potential pitfalls and capitalize on the benefits of a connected life?

  • Start a conversation. Have open, age-appropriate conversations with your child about the role of technology and social media in their lives and express any concerns you have in a calm and caring manner. Children and teens may be more open to limitations if they understand your rationale.
  • Set limits. These will vary with the age of your children and from family-to-family. Some common rules include:
      • Everyone places their phone in a basket at dinner.
      • No phones in the car. Talk to each other instead!
      • No screen time until all homework and chores are done, and then, only for a set time.
      • Teens give their parent their phone or place it in a designated location at a certain time each night. Use an old-fashioned alarm clock instead of their phone.
  • Create sacred family times that are device free. This can include family dinners or outings. Another idea is starting a family movie night, choosing films that emphasize character development and your family values.
  • Model healthy use of technology. Lead by example. Your kids are watching and learning from your media habits.
  • Create a Family Media Plan. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a tool to help you create a Personalized Family Media Plan. Be sure to involve your kids in this. They will be more likely to abide by the plan if they are part of creating it.  
  • Encourage real-life friendships. Their online lives can provide teens with a sense of connection and belonging. However, this should not replace their real-life friendships, which are essential to nurturing empathetic, healthy individuals.

About the Author

Jodi Manton has served as the Upper School Counselor since 2015 where she provides academic and social/emotional services to Upper School students and their families. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC), and Certified School Counselor. She has a master’s degree in education with a concentration in mental health counseling and a Certificate of Education Specialist with a concentration in school counseling from Louisiana State University.


Anderson, M. & Jiang, J. (2018). Teens, Social Media, & Technology 2018. Pew Research Center Internet & Technology. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018/.

Damour, L. (2018). Parenting the Fortnite Addict. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/30/well/family/parenting-the-fortnite-addict.html.

Pensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. Retrieved from https://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Rennert, L., Denis, C., Peer, K., Lynch, K.G., Gelernter, J., & Kranzler, H.R. (2014). DSM-5 Gambling Disorder:  Prevalence and Characteristics in a Substance Use Disorder Sample. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 22 (1), 50-56. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4019046/.

Taylor, J. T. (2012). How Technology is Changing the Way Children Think and Focus. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/201212/how-technology-is-changing-the-way-children-think-and-focus?amp


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