Do Teens Really Need a Mobile Phone?
We live in an age where our lives are intertwined with technology. Our houses are equipped with gadgets such as laptops, iPads, smartphones, virtual assistants, among others. Our kids see us glued to screens when we are either officially working or while we are on social media. The screens are getting even more pervasive now as a result of the ongoing coronavirus crisis. As parents and caregivers, we often wonder whether our teens really need a phone. In our younger years, we survived in a world that was devoid of smartphones and fancy gadgets, so a natural question arises "can't our kids do the same?"
While we attempt to answer that question, how about we first look at the pros and cons of allowing our teens to have mobile phones/ smartphones:
Pros of Giving a Mobile Phone to a Teenager
Safety of the Kid
This aspect tops the chart for most parents. Phones offer great comfort as parents can know the whereabouts of their kid, especially in cases such as their dance class ends early, or the karate teacher decides not to show up and the class stands cancelled. In case the teen finds himself/herself in a sticky situation for some reason, he/she can reach out to the parents for help as well. Further, in case you want to surreptitiously keep a track of your kids, you can consider installing a tracking app on their phones.
Multi-purpose Organisational Tool
Smartphones can assist and double up as educational tools for teens. Teens can download course lectures, lesson plans, and other applications designed to help with their studies. There's a plethora of classes recorded in podcast formats for instant download. Further, kids can also help organise their lives better by storing important tasks and reminders in various apps. Helps take off the mental burden of trying to remember every small detail at school.
Connection to Social Support
Staying connected via smartphones gives psychological comfort to teens that they are part of their social network. They won't feel 'left out' when most of their friends have a phone, and they don't.
Mode of Teaching Responsibility
Parents can use the mobile phone to teach kids about responsibility. This might be the very first expensive gadget they may own. Educate them how to care for it and if it breaks or goes over the credit, have them pay for it from their monthly allowance.
Memorable Event Capturing
One of the other advantages of having mobile phones is that they come with cameras. Teens can use them to create memories that they will cherish forever. On family vacations or school outings, let them click what catches their attention and have them actively look for cool photo opportunities.
Respite in Current Times
It may be difficult for us to admit but truth is with the majority of us stuck indoors these days, we don't have enough time/ideas to keep children occupied all the time. Often, it is easiest to hand them their phone so they can look for a game or some educational material to go through.
Cons of Giving a Mobile Phone to a Teenager
High Addiction Quotient
Smartphones are usually addictive. Many times we ourselves have made the mistake of resorting to entertainment, games, online distraction to run away from life's stress. Similarly, our teens run the risk of burying their problems into an online game rather than trying to work through it.
Missing Out on Real Life
How many times have we seen teens slouched in MTRs or public transport on their phones so deeply engrossed that they don't even notice what's happening around them. Most of them would be well-meaning kids who would gladly give up their seats in the MTR/buses to aged people, or those who need it more than them. But because they are glued to their phones, they seem to be living lives in self-created isolation bubbles. They are missing out on the satisfaction they would have garnered from waving/smiling at a 2-year-old kid seated next to them, or helping a pregnant lady find a seat to rest.
The stress of how the kid is 'looking' on social media, the pressure of having to stay connected 24/7, just because the popular ones in school are always connected, can end up being a lot to handle. Teens, of all age groups, are the most vulnerable lot and may not be equipped well to manage such high-anxiety situations.
This is one of the most dangerous downside to unfettered access to phones for teens. It is very easy for them to get into a wrongful influence or go about downloading inappropriate material or disclose things like address and other personal information on social media. Left unattended, they teen could also get caught up in some unhealthy activity like sexting or mingling with online perpetrators/pedophiles etc.
Limited Attention Span
Parents of kids who have access to phones without any restrictions often complain how their kids' attention spans are getting shorter. They seem a lot more distracted, are less interested in talking to their own family members, and increasingly just stare at the small screen.
Some kids have taken selfie craze to a whole new level. The desire to take a unique selfie has led to them to risk their lives by standing on edges of steep cliffs or performing dangerous stunts just to gain their friends' / followers' attention.
Ways to Integrate Technology in Teens' Lives
Why don't we now look at what steps experts and research suggests to keep teens and technology in harmony and the right balance:
Practice What You Preach
Mark Griffiths, psychologist at Nottingham Trent University suggests that teachers and parents need to work with children to mediate the use of technology. While it is not possibly to disallow usage of screen when we adults sit in front of them for 9 hours or more daily, it is imperative that we send out a message about moderation to our kids by being good role models. We shouldn't respond to text messages or emails while with family or while we're together. Teaching our child appropriate cell phone etiquette will be a breeze if we follow it ourselves.
Limit the Usage
Bradley Busch, registered psychologist and director of mental skills training company InnerDrive suggests that mobile phones shouldn't be allowed at bedtime and during homework hours. Create a rule that says all phones should be turned off at a certain hour, say 8 pm. The need to constantly check your smartphone to check messages, notifications from friends can not only disrupt sleep but also induce anxiety and chronic stress in kids. This also implies that in absence of mobile phones, teens can become irritated and frustrated and fear they are missing important stuff out. During homework hours also, the phones should be kept away to minimise the distraction and keep them focused on their work. Parents can consider keeping their phones on charge in common areas such as the living room or the kitchen.
Say No to Phones During Dinner or Family Time
Encourage your kids to talk to family members during dinner and family time and make it abundantly clear that during such time, cell phones will not be entertained. Whether you are out for a hike or playing football with family, discourage bad mobile phone etiquettes like texting people and ignoring those who are physically present in front of you.
Support School's Disciplinary Policy
Have a thorough discussion with your kid about phone policy and usage at their school. Figure out the mobile phone policy at your teen's school and keep reminding them how important it is to honour the school's code of conduct all the time.
Instil Kindness and Tell them to Keep their Guard Up
Explain the potential consequences (both socially and at-home) of getting into dangerous habits like cyberbullying, getting caught up in inappropriate conversations, or sending sexually explicit photos. Make sure your child understands that bad behaviour is just as bad when it is on the phone or online.
Undergo Periodic Digital Detox
Ask your kid to set aside a screen-free day every fortnight or so or you could make all Sundays mobile-phone-free day. Let them experience that life without phones can be equally enjoyable.
To sum up, we live in a technology driven world and can't run away from gadgets. Our kids see us use them all the time and like any other technology it can either be a boon or bane depending on how we use it. With our appropriate guidance and supervision, let's help our teens discover how to safely integrate tech into their lives. Do not shy away from intervening if you see the child develop unhealthy cell phone habits. It is our responsibility to teach our kids the right phone etiquettes to save them from potentially embarrassing and dangerous situations.