Regardless of how we feel about it as parents, technology is here to stay. We can choose to fight it, fear it, or lean in and leverage the distinctive opportunities it might offer us to grow in trust and connection with our teenagers. If you’re open to the latter, here are five easy (and free) options to consider.

1. Traditional Texting

Recently, my daughter and her friend had a big disagreement that left her in tears behind a locked bathroom door. On one hand, my protective nature hated seeing my kid hurting, but on the other, I knew this would likely be a valuable life lesson on relationships and I didn’t want to come to her rescue too quickly. When I knocked, she said she wanted to be alone. As soon as I got to my bedroom to process how I might help (and frantically search Parent Cue for a helpful article), I heard a text come through. It was my kid. And she began to quickly unload the entire backstory of their breakdown.

Though I will always challenge my daughter to grow in her face-to-face interpersonal skills, as a dad,  I’ve become more open to texting as an on-ramp to difficult conversations. It shouldn’t surprise us how much more our kids might be willing to open up to us via text. For better or worse, most adults have likely experienced how typing on a keyboard invokes more bravery in us than verbally processing our emotions. Truth be told,  a text thread often feels like a safer space. Although there are times I wish I could look into her eyes or hold her hand as she initially shares her struggles, I’m willing to see how exchanging a few texts can be a great gateway to her heart. 

2. Social Media

Like many, the pandemic brought many surprises along with it to our family – one of the biggest being our family’s sudden fascination with Tik Tok and posting dance videos together. For our family of creatives, social media has become a place where we feel comfortable expressing ourselves as long as there is ongoing and intentional monitoring for everyone’s safety. Of course, this is a tricky one depending on where you stand personally on the use of certain apps and boundaries you’ve set in place in your home.

I have found that most kids who are active on social media can be fairly protective of their online presence, so if this is something you want to try, have a conversation about where they would feel comfortable connecting with you and set some ground rules. Find a platform you both enjoy and use it to connect over a shared passion. Whether it’s learning silly dances on TikTok, sending each other funny reels or recipes on Instagram, or designing creative boards together on Pinterest, social media can be a fun and positive way to connect to the heart of your child by being willing to step into a world they’re very familiar with. Our kids also love the opportunity to teach us something new – so be open, ask questions and keep the end goal in mind.

Parenting in a Tech World Course by Parent Cue

3. Shared Libraries (Music, Books, Podcasts)

Advances in modern technology have made it incredibly simple to connect over shared interests with your kid – especially with the development of cloud-based media apps like Spotify, Kindle, and Audible. If you have similar tastes in music or are open to learning more about each other’s preferred genres, consider building a custom music playlist that you both add songs to and discuss your thoughts. If you’re both into reading, create a shared library of books or audiobooks (your local library may even have a free digital e-book service). The YouVersion Bible app also keeps an excellent library of middle school and high school student-centered daily devotionals that you and your teen could work through together to process faith questions. Each prompt encourages students to think through one of four faith skills: hearing God, talking about God, praying to God, or living for God. Lastly, curating and listening through a shared library of podcast series together could be another great connection builder. 

4. Video & Audio Messaging

While it seems the keyboard is now the number one avenue for connection, paying close attention to tone in texts is a key factor in healthy online communication.  If you’ve ever texted with a teen in 2022, you’re likely aware of how much can get lost in translation. Video and audio messaging, however, provides a much more accurate reading of not only your kid’s message  but also their mood and motivation. Audio-based mobile apps like Voxer (who doesn’t love a good walkie-talkie?) and video-based ones like Marco Polo allow you both to ask/answer questions, tell stories, share reminders, and funny anecdotes in a way that’s simple, fun and clear. Consider switching to this mode of communication if you’re tired of deciphering the overuse of acronyms and emojis.

5. Online Gaming

Growing up, I always secretly envied families who prioritized a consistent Family Game Night. Now I realize that fun, over time, can create a sense of safety and belonging in a home. Our willingness to relax and laugh with our teens, especially in a time when anxiety and mental health is on the rise, helps prove to them that we not only love them – but we like them, too. While classics like Pictionary and Spoons might remain family staples, today’s gaming options are seemingly endless. In fact, especially since social distancing became a normal part of life, the online gaming industry is now a multibillion-dollar industry with no signs of slowing down. More parents are trading board games in for the PS5, X-BOX, and even VR (virtual and augmented reality) for immersive gaming experiences. With chances to embark on international quests, play as your family’s favorite star athletes, and enter team competitions, online gaming may provide one of the best ways for your and your teen’s worlds to collide. Mobile app gaming, which now holds the largest segment of the market, is now providing versions of the board games we’ve grown up with like Monopoly, Clue, and Mario Kart that you can play on the go. It’s amazing how close I can feel to my kid just by playing a simple game over iMessage. Give it time and see if it becomes something they begin to look forward to – though may never admit it.