Staying connected to plugged-in teens

March 21, 2013|Alicia Notarianni | Making Ends Meet

I wonder what grounding looked like in the 1920s.

What items or privileges were restricted?

"Young man, hand over the stick. There will be no stick ball and no fishing."

And what did kids get grounded for? Were they lighting matches or dressing like flappers? It's not as if they were "like-" ing inappropriate material on Facebook. The average American household did not have a car, let alone a television. The term "computer" referred to a person who did calculations.

By the '50s, while raising their children, my grandparents had to deal with automobiles and boob tubes wielding Elvis' gyrating hips in the living room. My older siblings remember when their telephone conversations were monitored by neighbors on the party line in the '70s.

 By the time I was a teen in the late '80s, that concept had become obsolete, though there was still the busy signal. Call-waiting was new to my area, and caller ID came later and was used only if you had a stalker.

Nonetheless, like most people I knew, my family already had at least a couple televisions in the house and a phone on each floor. Then one year for my birthday, as an early teen, I got a phone in my bedroom. Looking back now from a mom's perspective, I didn't need it, and I shouldn't have had it. No 13-year old girl needs to be reciting seedy Prince lyrics while giggling in private with friends, much less trying to figure what a cute, hormonal young man means by reciting them to her when they both should be sleeping.

And yet that scenario seems old-fashioned compared to teen culture today, which involves some of the same and so much more. Today, to ground a teen, having her remain bodily in the home and off the home phone is merely a guileless beginning when considering the digital landscape.

Linguists believe that the term "grounded" originated in the aviation community. When an aviator was restricted from flying for reasons like misconduct or illness, he was said to be "grounded." Over the course of decades, parents face increasing challenges landing that proverbial plane.

Today, many teenage infractions have to do with technology itself — texting while driving, unsuitable internet browsing, ill-advised tweets on Twitter. Moms and dads can ground a teen from social outings and the landline only to have them socializing via email, instant messaging, text messaging, chat rooms, bulletin boards, blogs, social networks, video sharing or multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft.

A determined kid who is grounded from the computer at home can go to school and use one there. I know a parent, who, concerned with some of his child's behavior, temporarily restricted her phone, laptop, and iPad use only to find she was undeterred, still chatting with friends through a gaming system.

There are times when I do believe grounding, to the extent that parents are able, is in order. But realistically, our odds of staying ahead of technology are bleak.

We need to continue taking necessary precautions — monitor and limit online activity, using software to filter or block unwanted content; allow Internet use only in common areas of the home; remain abreast of what kids are watching and playing; and be their social network "friend."

But perhaps our best hope, maybe now more than ever, is to make every effort to stay plugged in —  not electronically, but relationally — to our teens. Research conducted at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and The Brookings Institution cites evidence that social networking sites are causing "serious parent-child conflicts and loss of parental control."

Even if they say they don't want us around, teens are looking for a place to share their thoughts and feelings, their joys and struggles. We cannot fully sever digital communication. But we can offer available and appealing real life, face to face, eye to eye, heart to heart communication.

For related information, see "Online Communication and Adolescent Relationships" by Kaveri Subrahmanyam and Patricia M. Greenfield at or "Adolescents and Electronic Communication" by Yalda T. Uhls and Patricia M. Greenfield at

Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her email address is

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