As we are so unused to the dominant roles phones play in teens lives (although perhaps because they dominate our own as well), many families are unprepared to set boundaries around technology use. This means the young people set the terms – and face the consequences of the misuse of these.
Although the younger generation may understand the technology and the various apps more than we do, and we may marvel at their skills on one level, they are unprepared on a number of levels for completely autonomous use of them. To put it simply, they might understand how to create a TikTok – but we as adults are far better at understanding the possible negative consequences of an inappropriate one.
While we have explored on this Wellbeing Hive the many benefits devices can bring to our lifestyles, as a leader in a wellbeing role in schools, I am contacted by many families who are struggling to educate and manage poor management of, and behaviour on, devices and especially social media platforms.
The consequences of unmonitored and unchecked use of devices is both physical and emotional. We see a large number of students lacking sleep during these crucial years, because they are sitting up gaming, talking to friends, or wide-eyed and stressed about a comment that was made late in the evening – and what they may have to face at school tomorrow.
Similarly, we are approached by many families whose children have been a victim of online bullying, or who have been offended by thoughtless posts by students who do not perhaps have a firm grasp of the topics they are discussing, nor how to share their opinions in ways that are constructive and sensitive. Engaging with controversial topics on social media can seem like a cheap and easy way to get likes and other reactions – but a thoughtless and crass post can also seriously damage your reputation and peer relationships. Remember also that tone is harder to determine online, and jokes can be misconstrued with ease.
We may have the world at our fingertips – but sometimes that world will not be kind to us.
Young people need serious guidance in this area, and schools work hard to educate about appropriate online behaviours – but there is a crucial role for families to play in helping young people avoid harm.
The best process to have in place to support young people to use phone and other devices positively is a family agreement. This is a set of guidelines about phone use that ALL members of the family agree to. This might include:
Also, actively encourage activities which do not rely on phones, such as:
What we need to impart to young people is two things – firstly that devices are a part of our lives, but that they are not connected to the WHOLE of our lives. There are times when they can be put away, and we can choose to ignore them if they buzz when we are having fun cooking or playing a board game or engaged in a conversation with the person in front of us – but we need to model it to.
We also need to model the second point – that who we are on social media must be the person that embodies are values. Choose to be kind whenever you can. Choose to support rather than attack. Listen and stay quiet if you do not understand an issue being discussed. Choose to strive to understand rather than to be heard. The consequences of doing otherwise can be long-lasting and painful.
Photo by Cottonbro from Pexels