Teenagers and Technology

Teenagers and techonology, what’s your take? For every positive thing I can think of on the topic, I can think of its negative counterpart. It’s no secret that technology is changing our lives, both adults and kids. The question is how do we use technology in positive ways while downplaying its negative effects?

How do we keep it all in check? I ask these questions both to myself as an adult and a parent, and I’ve worked for years on balancing my addiction to my iPhone with attentiveness to the present moment.

As an adult, I know how hard it is to step away from the phone, so I know it must be even harder for teenagers. They don’t have brains that consider and accept consequences of their actions. They’ve grown up with smartphones. It feels like an entitlement to them. Everybody has smartphones, and everybody has all the apps. So there is pressure on young people to keep up with their peers.
My oldest daughter (20) didn’t get a smartphone until she was in high school, and even then we were not big fans of texting or paying for the data plan, so we made her split the cost with us. My middle child and younger daughter (13) has had an iPhone for a few years now. In fact, she has the iPhone 5s while I only have the 4s. Yes her phone is better than mine, but that is just because of our upgrades. I’m due for the next upgrade, although to tell the truth, I am perfectly happy with the phone I have and don’t need more. Our son (8) has a phone, but it’s not a smartphone. He just has it because he walks home from school, and we feel better knowing he has a way of contacting us just in case something goes wrong. I wrote about fear yesterday, and of course, my kids being alone is one of my big fears.

I’m a pretty structured parent, strict in some ways and easy-going in others. Based on my experience as a classroom teacher, I use behavior contracts at home as well to reinforce expectations. It’s a simple idea based on Lee Canter’s Assertive Discipline. First, state some basic expectations in the positive tone. Then assign both positive and negative consequences. The child learns to take responsibility for choices they make, and they learn accountability for their actions.

Here are the stated rules and consequences on our contract, signed by all members of the family:

1. Follow directions.
2. Tell the truth.
3. Don’t post anything online you wouldn’t want your parents/teachers/employers to see.
4. Be kind and help each other.
5. Respect personal space.
6. Mind your own business

Positive consequences include:
*technology (TV, phones, devices, computers, XBOX, Wii etc.)
*personal items
*time with friends
*car keys (for our older daughter )
*going out

Negative consequences include loss of any or all positive consequences.

We even went so far as to write a separate contract for Acceptable Use of Technology: including cell phones and internet behavior. Failure to meet expectations results in loss of technology.

Internet Rules:
1. Do not share personal information online.
2. Stay clear of strangers.
3. Don’t post/follow anything you wouldn’t want your parents or teachers to see.
4. Be honest.
5. Do not give your location.
6. No deleting without permission.
7. Academic purposes only during school (no social media during school).
8. Use after 9m only with permission.

Cell Phone Rules:
1. Use phones with friends and family only.
2. Be honest.
3. Don’t text things you wouldn’t want your parents or teachers to see.
4. No deleting without permission.
5. Phone stays downstairs at all times.
6. Texting with family only during school.
7. Use after 9pm only with permission.

We all signed the contracts, and they hang on our refrigerator so there is never any confusion. The kids agreed these are fair expectations and to abide by them. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask. However, every time I spot check a teenager’s phone in this house, I inevitably find something on it that breaks at least one of the above rules. Perhaps they need help understanding the expectations better, so every time there is an infraction, I keep the phone for a while to make a point. What is my point? That having a cell phone and access to the internet are privileges, not entitlements.

When I told my teenager that “when and if she gets her phone back…” I couldn’t believe her response. “If? You mean I might not get it back?” It was 9/11, and the most serious thing going on in her thirteen year old life was the fact she didn’t have a cell phone to take to school with her.

Why does she need one?
She doesn’t.
Why does she have one?
Because she takes the bus home sometimes, so we want her to have a phone just in case something happens.
Why don’t I just meet her at the bus stop or pick her every up every day?
I could. And I do pick her up several days a week to get her to the dance studio on time.
Aren’t there already phones at school she could use in the case of an emergency?
Yes, there are.
Didn’t we grow up without cell phones while we were at school?
Yes, we did. Imagine that.

Why does she want it during school? For entertainment. For connection and communication with her friends. So she can send a million selfies back and forth to her group text with dance friends. So she can be distracted during the school day by all the teenage drama. So she can listen to music in class when she’s finished with her work (even though I’ve told her I don’t support that even if the teacher allows it.)

Those are really not the reasons we provide a cell phone for her. And all those things are not where want our kids’ focus to be during the school day.

Social media is another issue here. Kids these days are defined by the bios in their profiles and how many likes and comments they get on their posts. They are buying followers and following people they don’t even know just because they think they are cool or just because someone else they know might know them. Teens post the best parts of their lives, not all the messy and boring stuff, and it leads to comparisons and envy. Some teens act out online just to get attention or to create a reputation for themselves. It’s the same with adults, but teenagers are less likely to think ahead to the consequences of their words and actions And they are less likely to take precautions to avoid dangers inherent in the online world. Teens are much less likely to think twice before saying something or posting something online.

When are they going to realize it’s not safe to talk to strangers? When are they going to realize that what they say online is out there for the whole world to see? When are they going to realize that things they say or post create an image of themselves, sometimes in a negative light, giving bad impressions and complicating relationships and friendships?

When are they going to be ok for one day without access to a cell phone or the internet?

I’m addicted too, so I truly get it. I understand it’s human nature now to have a mobile device and to share life with the world on the internet.

My teenager has her phone back today in an effort to build trust. Wish us luck.

Thanks for reading this entry. Peace out!

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