It should be no surprise when teenagers and parents don’t see eye-to-eye when it comes to the use of technology for playing, learning, and living. Scheduled program options on radio and television have taken a backseat to online entertainment, with its immediate, repeatable, and seemingly limitless access to recreation and fun. Modern school curricula require the use of online textbooks, videos, and other resources for teaching in the classroom as well as completion of assignments by students at home. (Lack of fast Internet access at home has been shown put those students at a disadvantage academically.) And nowadays, more and more social interactions, both peer-to-peer as much as stranger-to-stranger, take place virtually rather than face-to-face — for parents and their offspring alike. Parents like Marybeth Bock know the score:
Parents of teens don’t need to read the current research findings to know that many adolescents are online constantly – we just need to glance into their messy bedrooms, or see them walking in the door, or ignoring our repeated questions – heads down and engrossed trance-like in their smartphones that seem surgically attached to the palms of their hands.
Teens know what’s going on also. A recent national survey of teenage smartphone addiction indicates just how much mobile technology and social media have taken over the lives of youth. Bock says the findings of the survey “glaringly demonstrate that our teens acknowledge the negative consequences of their phone behaviors, yet many can’t seem to self-regulate.”:
65% of teens wish they had a greater ability to self-limit the amount of time they spend on their phone.
69% of teens wish they could spend more time socializing with their close friends face-to-face, and less time socializing online.
60% of teens’ friends, in their estimation, are addicted to their phones.
71% of teens know that companies design apps to be addictive.
58% of teens feel that people generally expect them to respond immediately to notifications.
89% teens find it upsetting when they witness someone being bullied online.
73% of teens feel that social media use contributes to conditions that can result in school shootings.
42% of teens are fearful of being gossiped about online.
70% of teens have a list of 3-5 apps or sites that they continuously cycle through at any opportunity.
56% of teens get online every day with the intention of doing one thing and get sidetracked doing something else for an extended period of time.
19-year-old Bailey Danielson is a tech savvy teen in a tech savvy world. Writing on PediMom, a terrific blog from pediatrician Dr. Free N. Hess, Danielson says she got her first smartphone at the end of middle school, which was late compared to her peers:
Being a teen immersed in one of the first generations that got phones at young ages, I’ve seen how it can be used for both good and evil.
I am a full believer in that teens without phones are unfairly, although not purposely, ostracized by their peers. Who’s all going to the sleepover? Everyone in the group chat for it. Sometimes it’s not even because teens don’t make the effort; it’s because “I forgot to tell my mom to call your mom” or “my mom forgot to call your mom” issues that all could have been avoided if the teen just had a phone.
Given that, it’s a shame that this is the case. The tech world is a scary place. I easily concede to that. Meeting and forming bonds with strangers is easy and becoming normal when it shouldn’t be. Stranger Danger is still very relevant.
I consider myself a bit abnormal as a teen. Part of me wants to make this distinction between myself and a lot of my peers merely because I see them do stupid, unsafe, and common senseless things with and even without their phones. Although, a majority of these actions take place on and because of phones.
What parents view as “common sense” precautions when advising their children about using smartphones and social media responsibly (“Don’t post stupid content and don’t interact with strangers”) often differs from the teenager’s point of view (“Post during prime traffic hours, post content that makes me look cool, and get as many followers, likes, and comments as possible”), says Danielson. Teens also have the common sense needed to outsmart their parents’ restrictions and monitoring strategies:
I’ve never had to outsmart my parents and I still can tell you a boatload of ways I could get around whatever monitoring or restrictions they could set in place. Vault apps, hiding apps, non-permanent deletions, using code words or emoji are all basic strategies that come to mind without any effort. With the tech savvy generation, there always seems to be a loophole.
In their endeavors, kids aren’t trying to be malicious; they just want to fit in and have freedom. The conflict between parents and teens about social media usage isn’t complicated. Common sense for parents means safety, but that safety hinders what common sense means for teens: success.
Parent Bock thinks parents need to get a grip and gain control over the situation, beginning with:
Remind them about who is paying the bill
To begin with, if you pay your teen’s smartphone bills, have a calm conversation that reminds them that ultimately, you control the device. Until they want to pay for it entirely, they’ll need to abide by your guidelines. Consider coming up with a written contract that limits screen time, and consistently enforce consequences if rules are broken.
But this idea may go over like a lead balloon in your house:
Suggest more face-to-face time
Encourage your teen to talk with their friend group about “formally” establishing more face-to-face discussion time. Perhaps “Phone-Free Fridays” or “Let’s Talk Tuesdays” could become a thing or a club during their lunch breaks? (Expect the eye rolls but point out the positives.) Maybe your own family could enforce a “No Wi-Fi Weekend” once a month, allowing just a once-daily quick check for important messages?
Teenager Danielson takes a softer, if not more realistic approach:
As a teen, I would suggest not approaching the situation authoritatively, but instead with a willingness and eagerness to understand. If there is some underlying reason they hunger for social media success, other solutions may be more suitable.
Setting boundaries may be the best solution in general, but make sure to compromise. If you set boundaries that are too restrictive and obviously based on only or mainly your version of common sense, they’ll just use their common sense to get around them. When bridging the gap, compromises will be your best friend. When done right, it’ll be your teen’s best friend too, and the responsible one at that.