Protecting your teenager’s wellbeing in a digital age

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I read an article titled ‘Refereeing your tween and their phone’. It was written by a blogger and mother of a 13-year old boy who had given her son a used iPhone for his 12th birthday.

What struck me most from the article was how the writer was reflecting on her decision to empower her son with a smartphone and how “it’s been a ‘challenge’. That’s a euphemism for ‘nightmare’”. The writer goes on to say it has been a constant ‘cat and mouse’ game between her and her son to ensure he isn’t sneaking the phone into his bedroom for late night gaming, chatting to friends or searching the net inappropriately. For how many households would this sound familiar?

How many of us experience disquiet when seeing three or four teenagers – all friends – sitting together and texting another friend who is somewhere far off? As parents and educators, we find it increasingly necessary to create guidelines and rules and to make decisions we’ve never had to consider before. When will we allow text messages and phone calls to be taken? Where is it appropriate to have access to a phone at school?

In my mind, there is no doubt that technology brings you ‘great gifts with one hand and stabs you in the back with the other’. The gifts – knowing where your son or daughter is at any given time; face time with friends and family instantaneously, anywhere and at anytime; being able to send helpful reminders and allowing us to stay up-to-date with the world around us.

But it is also true that new technology often bewilders those who have grown up without it. It almost always raises new questions about wise and ethical ways to use it. Staying current and involved with your teenager’s technology habits can provide challenges, opportunities for some very meaningful conversations and in many cases, a personal growth curve for parents.

Research shows the highest use times for teenagers of their mobile devices is between 10.30pm and 1.00am in the morning. When parents have sought my advice on cell phones, I have always stressed that at a minimum, have devices recharging on the kitchen bench – no matter the age of their teenager – after bedtime each night.

Some, such as journalist Jamie Dorward in a British newspaper, questioned whether mobile phones have a place in schools at all. According to research, published by the London School of Economics, they found that after schools banned mobile devices the test scores of students aged 16 improved by 6.4 percent.

At St Paul’s, we endeavour to limit cell phone use. We do not ban mobile devices, but instead educate students about when it is appropriate to use them and if they are misused, there are clear and consistent consequences. What happens at your school?

We hope that as parents, you and your school can work together to improve the quality of interpersonal communications between our teenagers and to educate them that there is appropriate and inappropriate use of smart devices.

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Grant Lander