Teens and Tech: The most surprising thing to happen over the last few weeks.
My almost 14 year old daughter has been seriously up and down since school called it quits in March. Then, we went into lockdown a week later.
Her phone time and screen time have exceeded 7 hours at times (the UK average use is over 9 hours when kids are at school), and we have had a lot of discussions about what is too much. (We are co-parenting between two homes 45 minutes apart) We are quite well versed in the research about kids and phones and too much screen time, and we have also experienced the effects in real time (changes in behaviour being a huge indicator). Considering her usual allowance is 2 hours, 7 was way, way too much.
We are those parents who are really tight on app and phone use in general. I have access to all of her apps, that’s the deal with her having a smartphone vs a brick like her younger sister. I have no interest in following her or checking her apps and messages, I respect her need for privacy. But every once in a while, I will see a rather dodgy sexual message, or see one of her 13 year old classmates post pictures of herself in her sexy bra (I wonder why her parents don’t see it, and what is driving a young teen do post such intimate and exposing pictures), and I am reassured we are doing the right thing by at least paying attention, and keeping open conversations about it.
Miss almost-14, likes to post photos of herself too, but we get to vet them. I actually think she is ok with that, as she wants to present her best self to her world, and while I can be kind, I can be honest. I have noticed she counts the likes. And it matters to her. There has been research on social validation and teen levels of anxiety and depression, loneliness, bullying and fear of missing out. And none of it is a good reflection of society and social media. We try really hard to be reasonable and supportive, but also have firm boundaries for her protection. The last ‘discussion’ we had, she took on the role of a barrister (very impressive and stylish arguments) to get what she felt she was necessary and reasonable for her survival as a lockdown teen (she was fighting for more time). But she was able to negotiate with us, and that mattered, both for her own self determination and self-esteem, but also for us being able to set real boundaries and have her not only respect them, but know we are doing it for love and her own safety. We listened to her, and she knew it, and with the eventual outcome, she felt heard through the process.
In the USA in November 2019, Medical Express ran an article saying that Instagram was supposed to remove the likes option entirely for the reasons above, in favour of improving mental health, but it hasn’t happened.
If she wants to sit on our dial up 1960s phone (now that I showed her how to use it lol) she can, it’s the radiation/emf that we aren’t thrilled with in terms over use. And we all know the screen light affects melatonin production and therefore normal sleep. It is worth noting that she was physically ill the day of serious overuse, with feeling weird, diarrhoea and headaches after having been on the phone so long between facetime/whats app/insta/ etc! Good lesson.
The realisation that has become surprisingly apparent this week, is that she is missing the actual face to face contact with her friends more than anything.
And I think she has surprised even herself with this insight. Tech contact and interactions do not make up for the lack of real time social contact, touch, laughs, comraderie, and the other thousands of small interactions that make up her day.
Small mercies, but if realising that real time social contact is more vital than all the screen virtual contact is something that comes out of this lockdown, I would be delighted.
And what a sea-change that would be.