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It's comical, annoying and tragic, all at the same time—teenagers and their attachment to tech gadgets, that is. Actually, it's not only tech gadgets—it's social networking such as MySpace, Facebook and other forms of instant messaging.

While many of us thought this all would be a disappearing craze, the use of gadgetry to maintain constant contact with friends appears to be with us for a while. So parents, you'd better become familiar with the technological world and its trappings.

Why are parents concerned? Because many teenagers can't seem to put their cell phone down. They walk with it, eat with it and of course, talk with it. At times they seem more attached to talking on their phones than talking to friends in person. What's up with that?

Consider this email from a concerned mother:

I have a question/dilemma - how does a parent regulate a teen's phone, iTouch, laptop, and TV usage during the summer? My two teens are 14 and 16. The 16-year-old will begin his first job on Tuesday, working evenings. Summer in Texas is too hot to do many outdoor activities. Yard work can only be done early morning or late evening. Complaints/bugging persist if an electronic item goes away, or they just spend more time on the others. HELP ! Are there any ideas out there?

Your concerns are understandable. There are thousands of parents with similar concerns. Here are a few guidelines to consider using with your teens.

First, remember who is in control. Your teens should never dictate how much time they spend on computers, cell phones or television. While they want technological entertainment 24/ 7, you decide the limits. Don't get into the position of allowing your teens to "nag you into submission." You'll regret it and wish you had been tougher, sooner.

Second, there really are some ‘reasonable' amounts of time to be spending in front of the television and on their computers/ cell phones—but they stem from your values. Some families have decided to ban the television from their homes completely, finding the merits of television to be limited. Many have decided to control television usage and programming, again reflecting family values. Many have also made rules about putting cell phones away when they come into the home at night or at least limited the amount of time spent on them.

Third, use of television and other gadgetry should be tied to responsible use—and general behavior. Teenagers are not entitled to the use of television, computers or cell phones—though they may act as if they are. You as parents are to instruct them in the use of these tools, and how to use them responsibly. Consider tying their use to other responsible behavior in the home and school. Additionally, the way you teach them about the responsible use of these technological instruments may be the way they use them in later life.

Solomon reminds us, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." (Proverbs 22:6) These challenges are all opportunities for teaching your children responsibility. Begin setting limits when your children are young, long before they reach their teens. You'll have earned their respect by the time they are of the age to acquire and participate in online activities.

Fourth, model responsible behavior. Many teens are simply acting in ways that have been modeled for them by their parents. Too many parents operate their lives by, ‘Do as I say, not as I do.' This is no way to effectively teach your children. Model moderation for them in your use of television, computer and cell phone use. Model the observance of laws, including laws about the use of cell phones while driving.

Finally, these gadgets are not positive or negative, but how they are used is critical. These devices can be tools for learning as well as fun. If teens see parents using them effectively, as well as understanding their use is tied to responsible living in other areas of their lives, all can be well. If they understand that texting while driving will be immediate grounds for cell phone removal, they will learn quickly about responsible use. If parents use boundaries with enforceable consequences, use of these devices and time spent on computers will be means to teach responsible behavior.

I'd like to hear how you are setting enforceable limits with your teen when it comes to use of cell phones, computers and television. Write to me at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.

June 16, 2010

Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.