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9/30/12blog post

are teens too technologically connected?

The popularization of the automobile in the 1920s was not universally welcomed. Many raised questions about the safety of this new invention and their concerns were valid. There are about 1.2 million fatalities world-wide associated with car accidents, and another 50 million people injured and billions of dollars in damages. Even so, few are willing to give up the convenience of the auto in spite of these significant costs.

As with many things in life, we try to minimize the risks to enjoy the benefits.

We’re in that same situation today in dealing with the dilemmas presented by kids and technology. Our teens are technologically connected with 68 percent of them sending text messages daily, averaging somewhere between 60 and 100 texts every day. Over half of our teens visit a social networking site daily. Over 80 percent of teens have their own cell phone, and two-thirds have a device that allows them to connect to the Internet.

That means that 67 percent of our kids can visit virtually any website without our guidance or supervision. We are fearful. We don’t want our children in internet relationships with strangers, addicted to pornography, victims of cyber bullying or sexting, and spending excessive times with screens rather than interacting with real people.

There is a digital abyss between parents and kids when it comes to technology. Kids experience this world very differently than their parents, playing down the risks while applauding the many advantages. While most adults go to the internet for information, kids seek relationships in their digital worlds.

Our kids love technology, and report that the benefits outweigh any risks. For the 75 percent of teens who are involved with social media, they report that use of networks such as Facebook helps them be more confident, outgoing, sympathetic to others, and feel better about themselves. They overwhelmingly report that it has helped their relationship with friends and family members other than adults. About an equal number report it has hurt and helped their relationships with their parents.

Teens are aware of the risks of technology, with 20 percent to 41 percent of them reporting that they feel “addicted” to their cell phone, iPad, or social networking site, and 28 percent of them feel their parents are “addicted” to those same devices. We’ll give up neither our cars nor our computers and so we’ll have to help our children deal with both, in spite of the risks. This means doing two things.

  • Educate. Engage your children in ongoing conversations about technology. Learn about Facebook and texting, and talk with your kids about articles like this.
  • Supervise. You’ve got to match the degree of supervision with the needs of your child. As with driving a car, apply the simple principle that supervision decreases as responsible behavior increases.