Teenagers today spend too much time in front of a screen! Are you nodding your head in agreement or shaking it in despair? Are you slumping your shoulders in helplessness or raising your hands in frustration? Do you think this is a ‘new’ problem caused by mobile media or is it simply a transferral of old habits?
My daughter 13, and son 18, both have smart phones and lap tops. They use them in the bedroom, family room, car, bus, library and playground … I think you’ll see where I’m going with this. They look at screens a lot. They use technology to remain connected to their social and learning worlds.
My children also lead active, physical lives. They play sport, go out with friends and study using pen and paper. We even talk. We chat over dinner, in the car, watching TV, while reading, when walking. This is what we, as a family, do. We discuss. We exchange ideas, we talk about what we’re doing, why we are doing it and how we feel. Even though my children look at screens, they are not inert, nor are they missing real interactions with friends and family.
The same can be said of my students. Discussions in class, recounts of weekend sport and observations in the playground reassure me – children today may seem to spend a lot of time looking at screens but that doesn’t mean technology is depriving them of meaningful social, sporting or learning opportunities.
I remember the media criticising the amount of time my generation spent watching TV. I remember my parents yelling at me to get off the phone and jerking the cord from the wall. I even remember my mother telling me to get my nose out of a book and into fresh air.
So have teenager pursuits really changed or is it just that they are doing the same things using different media?
Perhaps its time to look at the question of screen time from a different perspective because I have seen a shift in teenage wellbeing. These shifts aren’t necessarily the result of too much screen time – but they may be a consequence of a teenager’s need to find connection.
As a teacher, I have seen too many students who are terrified of exam results; they believe their self-worth is determined by numbers on a page. I have seen too many teenagers recount facts rather than evaluating the ideas supporting them. I have seen creativity stifled by a belief that there is only one ‘right’ answer. I have too many young adults disconnected from their future.
Is this the result of too much screen time?
It could be, or it could be the result of a high a cost of living. Maybe too many of us are time poor. How often do we recognise the moment? Are we attentive to those around us?
Rather than worrying about too much screen time, rather than imposing rigid rules, rather than counting all the things that could go wrong, maybe we need more talk. We need meaningful interactions. We don’t have to ‘take things away’. Instead, we could enrich the experiences our children enjoy. We can encourage our teenagers to actively and consciously, communicate.
Perhaps this way our children can learn to self regulate and manage their own screen time.
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