Mobiles and applications are part of our daily lives. And they are part of the lives of teenagers. According to research 95 % of teens own a smartphone. What are we, the parents, supposed to do?
Clearly some worrying studies have been made public and a lot of scientists warn us about the dangers of online exposure from a very young age. Famously, both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs raised their kids tech-free. According to the article in Business Insider both technology giants chose to minimise the exposure of their children to the newest gadgets.
And that is something to think about.
Nonetheless there is also several recent studies suggesting that smartphones are not necessarily bad for teenagers According to information in Nature International Journal of Science “Smartphones are bad for some teens, not all”.
The main concerns include the negative effect on attention and memory. There are claims of reduced attention spans, reduced reading levels and avoidance of demanding tasks.
On the other hand, connectivity facilitates communication with friends, family, teachers. It also empowers access not only to entertainment, but also to libraries, museums, and educational platforms. Teenagers contemplating their future can visit University sites, private companies and government bodies. They can do their own market research, be it for finding the right University or the right outfit.
After considering both research and experience my point is: inform them, respect them, inspire them!
In the New York Times the article The Big Myth About Teenage Anxiety caused a lot of controversy and a lot of negative responses. Recent data however tend to validate claims that the next generation is not doomed.
The challenge is finding balance between the dangers and the opportunities offered by new technology. A very interesting viewpoint is presented in the article Online Presence for Future Pathways published in Education Technology Solutions. And there is also some very interesting information in Psychology Today discussing how Technology is Changing the Way Children Think and Focus. The article claims that the effect doesn’t have to be neither positive nor negative. It can simply be altering. Seems to me, it is our responsibility to tip the scales towards the positive.
Teenagers are now forming their identity, fighting their battles and trying to make sense of the world.
In my effort to be fair and open minded I decided to interview a teenager, present her answers and really consider them.
Interview with a teenager
- Her reasons for using the smartphone are:
“I use it to communicate with friends, and connect with others, mainly on Instagram.”
“I also like listening to music and shopping or simply browsing outfits!”
- On guidance about moderate use she responded:
“We know! I know, and my friends know! You have to trust that we know, and we think about it. We don’t want to end up stupid either!”
- When asked about parents’ reactions she said:
“They are usually right, but not always! Sometimes they are too strict. All the things they think about; all the things that make them worry so much are not necessarily true.”
- Would you consider not having a mobile phone?
“It depends. When I’m with friends I don’t care. But not permanently. If I’m occupied with something I don’t care.”
- How do you picture life without a mobile phone?
“ … ” no sound, I guess this is beyond imagination.
- Finally, what she would recommend parents tell their children:
“Better to explain things to them, rather than simply set strict rules. You want your phone more if it’s taken away.”
What do we do?
The use smartphones is often causing conflict and controversy leaving parents speechless and baffled. What do we tell our children?
We cannot ban the use entirely and live them stranded in a deserted island. For them the phone is an extension of their identity. An identity currently under formation.
On the other hand, we cannot entirely endorse it.
Clearly, we need to find this magical balance. The right balance!
Striking a balance is not easy. The issue is quite sensitive for them … it is their connection to the world.
Moreover, a long discussion is not really a good idea. Teenagers are not known for their patience and their dialectic abilities. They are passionate, and they want quick answers. They want direct messages without much analysis. And that is probably better for parents too. Analysing a controversy with a teenager can be frustrating for both parties.
We love them and since we love them, we need to remember to respect them. Listen to their point of view without pulling rank. It is our responsibility to engage them in real life connections, to talk to them, to guide them and inspire them. Adolescence was never an easy time, not even before smartphones.
Let’s entice them into living a full life. A real-world life full of experiences and love and exploration.
What do you think? What approach would you recommend?
Let me know in your reply below.