The lives of today’s teens, in their digitally connected and always online world, are much different than what us parents went through at that age. Gone are the days of making weekend plans on Fridays with your friends at school and hoping they showed up; teens are now in constant contact through phones and internet. It’s all about what you posted on Snap Chat, whose Twitter accounts you sub to, and there’s little point in doing anything that you can’t film and post online later.
With such a baffling new teen culture emerging, it’s hard for parents to know the where the line lies between safe and unhealthy use of technology. If you’re in this category, this article is definitely for you, as we look at the benefits and dangers of the constantly plugged-in lifestyles of modern teenagers.
For starters, there is a world of information at their fingertips, and your teen can almost instantly find out about current affairs, history, science or anything else they are interested in. The internet provides a window into all parts of the world, and young people are using it to educate themselves.
Despite what people say about technology making us anti-social, teens are communicating with each other more and more. Whether it’s a quick reminder to make sure they finish their assignment for tomorrow’s class or keeping in touch with a friend in another country, they use instant messaging and social media to develop and maintain strong friendships. For those with niche interests, technology can also allow them to find and participate in communities with like-minded others.
One of the best things about this new technology is that our teens don’t have to just passively experience it; they can create and share content themselves. Whether this is uploading music they’ve recorded, posting photographs or starting their own Youtube channel, technology can help them express themselves, learn skills and pursue artistic endeavours.
Unfortunately, there are dangers to the technology that our teens are plugged into. Cyber-bullying has gotten a lot of media attention recently, whereby children are bullied, intimidated and shamed over the internet and social media. Just like face-to-face bullying, it is very painful and damaging for the victim, and cyber-bullying has been linked to many cases of teen suicide.
Physical health can also be badly affected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 50% of young Americans aged 12 to 21 don’t regularly exercise, with overuse of technology being a big contributing factor.
More insidious is the way marketers take advantage of the internet to bombard people with advertisements and promote a culture of boundless consumerism. Reports have shown that young people are very naïve about the online practices of the advertising world. We should also be concerned about how companies monitor our kids’ online activities and use this data to market products to them.
Moderation, Balance and Conversation
Healthy use of technology comes through moderation. It’s too easy fall into patterns of texting all day or playing hour upon hour of online games. This becomes harmful when it starts cutting into their school time and keeps them from sleep or real contact with people. Parents need to help their child find moderation. Don’t be afraid to set time limits Wi-Fi before you go to bed.
Balance with other aspects of life is also important. Talk to your kids about how much time they spend with their tablets and gadgets, and figure out a system whereby they also get regular exercise, fresh air, and face-to-face contact with their friends. You may even be able to do this without the usual drama; why not gift them a gym membership for their next birthday present? Or let them take the car to go visit their friends?
Above all else, your conversations with your teen will have the most impact on how safe and productive their use of technology is. Although they love to tell us how ‘grown up’ they are, teenagers are still in that strange limbo between childhood and adulthood, and they are still vulnerable. Talk to your children about how they are using technology. Ask them what they are doing and be blunt with them if you think they are spending too much time in front of a screen. Most importantly, let them know that you are aware of how nasty things can get on social media, and assure them that you are always there for them if they need support. And always, always listen to them.
Trust us, we know how difficult teenagers can be, and sometimes getting them to talk to you seems like trying to get blood from a stone. But you’re they’re parents; you’ve brought them into this world, fed them, clothed them and changed their diapers a million times, and we’re sure you can find the right way of getting through to them.
About the Author
Matt Morrisey is a former teacher who has traveled all over the world teaching children English. From China to the U.K., Matt is well known. Matt’s parents are teachers, and his only brother works for a children’s charity in the U.K. Matt currently writes for BuzzParent.com and loves to write about parenting topics ranging from kids’ toys, activities for kids, to parenting hacks and lifestyle. He loves remote-control drones, and cannot wait until he opens his window to allow a drone to enter with an Amazon package - not long now... His work has been read by readers all over the world, and is featured on blogs and websites across the globe. Matt recently decided to go back to the university to complete a PhD and continue his career.