By Diana Simeon
When I was a teenager, our telephone hung on a wall in the kitchen. When I was on the phone, my parents knew it. And when I talked for too long, ignoring homework or staying up past my bedtime, they knew that too—and more often than not yelled at me to “Hang up!”
How times have changed.
These days, with devices that range from cell phones to computers—and increasingly a single device that does it all—teenagers have round-the-clock access to, well, everyone and everything: texting, Snapchat, YouTube, Twitter, email, friends, foes, strangers and much, much more.
And, let’s face it: we parents often have no idea what our teenagers are up to. These devices are not hanging on our kitchen walls. Teenagers can take them wherever they want—and they do, even to bed.
Of course, there are upsides to all this. Thanks to cell phones, we can reach our teenagers when we need to and, more importantly, they can reach us.
But, experts warn that there are pitfalls too. Spending too much time online can mean missing out on sleep or neglecting schoolwork. Social media and teenagers can be a volatile mix. And teenagers sometimes make poor decisions with technology—such as texting while driving or sexting—that can have severe consequences.
There’s no doubt that managing our teenagers’ use of technology can feel overwhelming. But it shouldn’t, say the experts and parents whom Your Teen interviewed for this month’s issue.
“This is no different than anything else we have to manage for our teenagers,” stresses Dr. Georgette Constantinou, a pediatric psychologist at Akron General Hospital. Read on to find out how:
The Big Picture On Teen Tech
Teenagers love all kinds of technology, but they love their cell phones the best. According to research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, more than 75 percent of teenagers have cell phones (which is more than have computers).
What are they doing with them? Well, it will come as no surprise to any parent of a teenager that they’re texting. On average, teenagers send 50 text messages a day—or 1,500 a month—according to the Pew Project, though about 30 percent (and growing) of teenagers are sending upwards of 100 texts a day.
Many teenagers are also accessing the Internet on their phones (about 35 percent, according to Pew). Yet, the majority of them still use computers to go online.
However, experts note that we are at a convergence point in communications technology: what once required several devices to accomplish is now distilled into one single gadget that fits in our pocket. Smart phones–which offer all the capabilities of a cell phone, plus the ability to access the Internet– are becoming increasingly popular with teenagers. Walk into a Verizon, Sprint or any other cell-phone provider’s store and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a phone that doesn’t allow for a “data plan” to access the Internet through your phone. Devices like the iPod Touch similarly allow teenagers to text, make calls (yes, there’s an app for that) and access the Internet from anyplace with Wi-Fi.
But, what is perhaps most startling is just how much of the day teenagers are using technology, in one form or another. The Pew Project found that more than 90 percent of teenagers go online several times a day; studies also show that the amount of time teenagers spend using technology is upwards of several hours a day, when all devices are taken into account.
This is cause for concern, Constantinou says. “Technology is overwhelming our teenagers’ lives. We need to ask: ‘Are we giving our teenagers time to be real?’”
The Lure of Technology
When Nicole Klinkhamer moved in with her fiancé and his two teenage daughters late last year, she knew that it wouldn’t always be smooth sailing. The Chicago-area native anticipated the inevitable challenges of being a stepmother to two teenagers. But, she never thought that technology would stand in the way of getting to know, much less bond, with her soon-to-be stepdaughters.
“We’re a blended house, and we’re trying to learn how to deal with each other. I’m not kidding when I say the cell phone is sometimes standing in the middle of a lot of conversation,” she says. “The phone rules the roost.”
It’s a situation to which many parents can relate. Indeed, technology can be a source of conflict in many households, in part because so many teenagers struggle with tuning it out.
“Teenagers have an intense desire to know what’s going on. And these gadgets offer constant access to that,” explains John Duffy, a clinical psychologist in La Grange, Illinois, and author of The Available Parent: Radical Optimism For Raising Tweens and Teens.
Like texting, Facebook and other social networking services—including Twitter, which is increasingly popular with teens—can also be habit-forming. Research shows that teenagers spend, on average, 90 minutes each day updating their accounts.
Technology Advice: 5 Tips for Parents
So, what’s a parent to do? Well, start by accepting that all of this is here to stay, Duffy says. “Recognize this is important to them. It’s not just to get under your skin. It means something to them.”
Then, make it your goal to ensure that your teenager has a healthy relationship with technology. Easier said than done? Perhaps. But here are five strategies to get you started:
#1: Model Moderation.
Research shows that the No. 1 impact on our children’s behavior is our own behavior. So, parents that are unable to disconnect from their gadgets—and if you regularly check your phone at the dinner table or during the school play, this means you—cannot expect their teenagers to do otherwise.
“It is the unwise parent that sits there staring at a little screen and telling their kids, ‘Okay, enough screen time.’ That is really poor modeling and kids are far more likely to follow the model than follow the word,” Duffy explains. “I get it myself. If a text comes in while I’m talking to my son, my impulse is to pick up the phone. And it takes a lot to say, ‘No, be present in this moment.’ But, it’s important.”
#2: Don’t Rush In.
What tween or younger teen has not lobbied their parent to get a smart phone or other hot gadget (Hello, iPad)?
But, experts caution that parents should not rush in. Though they’re often marketed as such, these devices are not toys. It’s important to wait until your child is mature enough to use them responsibly.
This is especially true when it comes to smart phones, which allow users to access to the entire Internet. “I don’t know why younger users need to have any Internet on their phone,” says Tracy Rush, an Austin, Texas mom, who moderates a message board at iVillage.com where she regularly hears from parents grappling with their children’s technology use.
Duffy agrees. “Eleven- and 12-year-olds don’t get the power of the tool. They can get themselves into real trouble.” He advises that parents wait until at least high school to introduce a smart phone. Tweens and younger teens should make do with a more basic phone.
#3: It’s Your House; Set Rules.
The best way to help teenagers manage their use of technology—and to reduce the chance that technology will be a source of conflict—is to set rules for technology use in your house.
And just like establishing rules for driving or curfew or anything else, parents need to make those rules clear—and use consequences to enforce them.
“If you institute it as a house rule, then it’s a house rule,” Constantinou explains. “So if it’s, ‘No texting while we’re talking,” then there’s no texting while we’re talking. If it’s, ‘Don’t let your grades suffer,’ then if the grades suffer, the phone goes. Technology is a privilege, not a right.”
That’s how Rush handles it with her own 16-year-old daughter. “It is a privilege. It’s no different than being able to play sports or go to a friend’s house or anything else. You have to follow the rules of the household. And if you are breaking the rules, you get privileges taken away,” she says.
Some house rules, such as no phones at the dinner table, may be hard and fast for as long as your teenager is under your roof. But parents should expect that others will change over time, such as increasing time on the computer for older teenagers.
“Once your kids get older, you have to show some degree of flexibility,” Duffy says.
Other areas to consider: no technology after 8 p.m. or 9 p.m.; no computers in the bedroom (recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics); no taking phones or other communication devices to bed; at social gatherings, your teenager’s guests leave their phones at the door (to limit “drama,” Duffy says); limits on how long teenagers can use their devices each day; limits on the number of texts your teenagers can send and receive each month; and, of course, no using the phone while driving.
Last, but not least, expect your teenager to follow basic rules of etiquette. “If you are going to use it as a means of communication, then set the same expectation of manners and grace for Facebook and the phone as you would for everywhere else,” Constantinou recommends.
#4: Monitor, But Don’t Snoop.
Make it your job to have some idea what your teenagers are doing with their devices. But, be upfront about it, the experts advise.
“I run into parents who don’t want their kids to know that they are monitoring them, so they find themselves snooping and then snooping becomes the issue, and the parent doesn’t have a leg to stand on in terms of the actual issue at hand,” Duffy says.
Stress to your teenagers that your expectation is that they will not do anything online or by text that they wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing with you. Friend them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and tell them that if you feel it’s necessary, you will spot-check their texts or email. Tread carefully. You can lurk, but resist commenting on your teenager’s status updates. If you feel you need to talk to your teenager about their online behavior, take it offline.
Your goal: To ensure that your teens’ overall lack of experience—and occasional impulsivity—doesn’t land them in trouble. Take sexting, which can include sending explicit pictures via text message. Being in possession of a nude picture of a minor—even if it’s your teenager’s long-time girlfriend—is against the law. Yet, teenagers continue to sext.
Facebook is another area where adolescents can stumble. Thoughtless status updates cause problems, not just with friends, but also at school, where administrators say they are increasingly dealing with the fall-out from social networking.
“It’s very impersonal. Students feel more comfortable saying things on Facebook that they wouldn’t normally say to a person’s face,” says Kelly Anderson, a counselor at Shaker Heights Middle School in Shaker Heights, Ohio. “It causes a lot of problems on Monday mornings.”
This fall, the school sent a letter home to parents, asking them to monitor their children’s Facebook accounts.
Perhaps the best reason to have some clue about what your teenager is doing online is that there is a possibility—remote, but real—that your child will encounter a predator.
“I know of a seventh grader who had a Facebook account on his phone and was about an hour away from meeting a 19-year-old sexual offender in the bathroom of a local mall, when his parents took a look and stopped him,” Duffy says. “This was a complete shock. This is a very responsible kid, but he just had no idea to whom he was talking.”
#5: Embrace What Your Teenagers Love.
Though, at times, it can feel that technology causes more problems in our homes than anything else, it also offers a tremendous opportunity to connect with our teenagers during what can be turbulent years in any parent-child relationship.
Take texting. “When I see parents who are willing to connect with their kids in this way, those relationships tend to go much more smoothly,” Duffy says. “Even if it’s just, ‘I love you,’ or, ‘Hey how is your day going?’ it’s a great touchstone from parent to child.”
Though while we need to keep talking offline, sometimes a simple, “I luv u 2,” from your teenager speaks volumes.
Technology, Friend or Foe?
What is the one aspect of a human's life that can either help to keep him alive or be the ultimate killer? The answer is technology. With the advances in modern technology, which promote excess food consumption and ever more sedentary lifestyles of the average human, our society has gone from America the big and powerful, to America the big and fat. It was only a couple of decades ago when the American man weighed an average of 168 pounds. Now he weighs nearly 180 pounds. The same is true for the American woman. The average has risen from 143 pounds to over 155 pounds. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). In 1970 the percent of people that were classified as medically obese or overweight was 14 percent. Now those numbers are over two times that rate (National Health Survey).
The United States has been growing larger throughout the past couple of decades, but the growth in its citizens' waist sizes and overall weight has been the most troubling issues. For a large part of the twentieth century, weights have been below the levels recommended for maximum longevity (Fogel 372). Now, most citizens of the United States are well over what has been set as the "safe" standard for weight. The even bigger problem is that weights and waist sizes are steadily increasing. The United States isn't the only country that has trouble controlling its appetites, but we are the only one that has grown to be heavy as we are now.
Are there any real explanations for this enormous growth in obesity? Why is the United States the only country that seems to have an out of control problem with obesity? Evidence has shown that the calories that we expend in our daily lives have not changed drastically since the 1980's, but the number of calories taken in has gone up considerably. This evidence brings about the next question: why such a large increase in the number of calories the average American consumes?
There have been a number of theories that could be used to give explanation for the increase in the calories consumed by the average American. The changes in the amount of money that is made and needed to survive and strive could be one of those reasons. The wealthier people become, the more they will want, whether it be a bigger boat or house, or larger amounts of food. The changes in the amount of earnings a person has don't seem to be enough to explain this oversize epidemic. The drop in the prices of foods could also coincide with income levels to produce a larger nation, but a lack of real evidence to support this idea leaves us looking for another answer. Another answer could deal with the fact that families with moms that stay at home and don't have a job have declined. Therefore, the increase in eating more fast foods than usual would be because there is no adult at home to cook dinner, leaving the families and children with no other option. The more times people eat out in a week due to few home cooked meals could be a reason, but no studies have shown that eating out absolutely increases the amount of calories a person consumes. A new theory proposed by experts links the rise in obesity with the reductions in the cost, and time it takes to prepare even more varieties of food. The reductions in the time and cost of food preparation has caused the amount of food intake to sky rocket, in turn making waist sizes grow larger.
The answer lies in food preparation. In earlier decades, most of the food preparation was done by the families that were going to consume the food. At the present time, food preparation has been taken over by a massive manufacturing industry. The change in who was making the majority amount of food for people to eat was able to happen all because of new inventions in technology. Preservatives, deep freezing, artificial flavoring, and vacuum sealing are just some of the technological innovations that have helped in this area. If it weren't for technology, food manufactures would have no means of making food any faster or cheaper than what families can do at home. In the early 1960's the average meals prepared at home in a day took about two hours total. These days that time has been cut in half by food manufacturers. Not only did this switch make the time and price preparing and consuming food to decline, it also increased the amount of food consumed and the varieties of food consumed.
Until recently, families would take unprocessed agricultural foods and turn them into something that was an edible food, this was a very time consuming process that could take up days at a time depending on how much food one person were looking to prepare for your families. As of recently the time and cost that it would take to prepare meals for a family has almost been cut completely in half. This is due to the ever growing technology and what it has done to food preparation.
The ability to make all sorts of foods has been around for plenty of years. The desire to spend the time to do so, however, has not. Anyone could make cookies for snacks if they wanted to, but making any sort of food or snack from scratch takes time and resources. People today love the ability to run to the grocery store or the nearest vendor and get the food out in a couple of seconds compared to the hours it might take them to produce it themselves. With new advances in technology food preparation at home has become a thing of the past. Now restaurants and factories are the main producers of the food that people consume in their everyday lives.
To produce food in one location that will be nearly ready for consumption in another location, one must surmount five main technological obstacles: controlling the atmosphere; preventing spoilage due to microorganisms; preserving flavor; preserving moisture; and controlling temperature (Kelsey 89). Technological advances over the past few decades have given rise to means of overcoming these obstacles. Being able to control the atmosphere has never really been a feasible idea, but controlling the atmosphere that the foods are stored in is another possibility that has become feasible due to advances in technology. Vacuum sealed packaging has allowed thousands of manufacturers to remove the gases inside a bag that food is stored in, thus increasing its overall shelf life. Hydrogen-peroxide sterilization has been another technological achievement that has allowed food manufactures to kill off harmful organisms that might hide in the food and be harmful if eaten. Food irradiation, which has been around since the 1970's, has helped to make food last longer on the shelves. This technology has progressed slowly due to some concerns from the public and the Food and Drug Administration. The Food and Drug Administration feels that emitting small amounts