Do you know where your smartphone is? Odds are that your teenager does. A new survey sponsored by Facebook and conducted by IDC shows that the majority of smartphone users in the 18-24 year old age group reach for their smartphone as soon as they wake up. For younger teens, the smartphone has become synonymous with their social life and while they might forget their homework or lose their keys, you can bet they know where their phone is all the time.
For a generation of parents who were likely adults before they even saw their first cell phone, watching their teens near constant typing, texting, and tweeting has become a cause for worry. Is there a line to be drawn that limits smartphone use? Is all this virtual interaction impeding the development of social skills they will need as adults? Has this generation shifted from avid users to addicts?
Unfortunately, the speed at which technology is changing our world makes it impossible to gauge the long term and sometimes even the short-term effects of these changes. The previous generation of parents had 30+ years to wonder about whether or not television was bad for kids before cable came along. Meanwhile today’s parents have watched the smartphone, Facebook, texting, tweeting, skyping, and gaming change everything about how their teens interact with each other and the world around them. When it comes to knowing what is best for our teens, it is easy to feel as if we are all strangers in a strange land.
If you are concerned about the time your teen spends interfacing with technology rather than interacting with face to face friends, there are some things you can do.
1. Look in the Mirror
What many parents don’t see is that they are modeling the very behavior that is causing them concern in their teenagers. If you can’t sit at the dinner table without checking your email, don’t expect your children to have better boundaries than you do.
2. Define the Line
There is a fine line between normal teenage smartphone use and addiction to smartphone use. Addictive behavior patterns are fairly standard, regardless of what you are addicted to. If you know what an addiction looks like, it will be easier for you to see where that fine line is so that you can give your teen the freedom to be a teen or get them help if that’s what they need.
3. Remember They are Not You
It can be hard for parents to grasp that the life their teen is living is vastly different from their own. The teens of the 70s, 80s, and 90s bought CDs at the mall, watched all the same shows on TV, and spent as much time as possible together without any parents around. Today’s teens have an entire virtual world to spend time together that is parent-free. They don’t need to spend Friday night at McDonald’s or meet up with their friends at the mall in order to spend time together and stay connected. They are always connected in a way us parents can only begin to comprehend.
The best things you can do as parents is provide a good example, set boundaries you believe in, and get help for your child if they need it.