When you read an article about teenagers, phones, and social media… the above picture is probably similar to what has accompanied the articles. This is what we see from an adult perspective. Kids who have their noses deep in their phones, ignoring each other, even when in a group of the peers.
Or perhaps, this picture is more of what you think of when the topic is brought up.
This is what the media tells us is wrong with society today. But, I wonder… who are these experts and where did they come up with their findings or opinions? Are we just adults who don’t understand the technology? We don’t get it, so it is wrong? Have any of these people spent time talking to teens about WHY their phones are so important?
Somehow, even people in my generation, have this nostalgic idea of what family was like or should be like. We envision the days of past, where everyone was gathered around the television or radio. Doing family together.
The reality is that even back then, people had their noses buried in things. The people and their tendencies haven’t changed, just the vessels that have their attention.
Our faces were buried in newspapers and books, jump further in time and we were listening to the news on portable radios with headphones. Then we were listening to music and reading magazines. Kids began to have toys that were kept in the car to entertain them while driving on long trips, this eventually evolved in to DVD players built into our vehicles.
Is it really anything new?
Even the idea that families were totally engaged at home, is a bit of a stretch. It was common for dad to sit in his chair and read the paper or take a nap on the couch. Mother would be sitting in her chair knitting or working on cross stitch, repairing buttons and socks, reading magazines that interested her, etc. Kids would play games with each other, play with the dog, color with crayons, build with blocks, or even were sent out side until the street lights came on.
Many of us live the idea of a nostalgia that really didn’t exist. And the truth, about kids with their cel phones looks more like this:
If you spend a few minutes talking to a teen you learn quite a bit about WHY social media and their phones are so important to their lives.
- They are BORED or UNCOMFORTABLE, it’s the thing they do with free time or in situations where they are uncertain how to engage.
- This is how they CONNECT. Even when they can’t be with their friends, they can bond over the experiences of shared photos and excitement.
- This is PARALLEL to the things we did as a kid. Texts = Passing Notes, Selfies = Exchanging School Photos. Apps allow them to doodle, write or read stories, or be just as silly as we were when we used 8008 on our calculators to spell out the word BOOB.
You will also learn some other interesting things like…
They grow out of it. My teen was big into her phone in middle and early years of high school. Now? She barely uses it, can leave it behind in her room and not think twice about it. Why?
She has a boyfriend. Her school work is harder. She has a job. She has money to spend = places to go. She just doesn’t have time for the nonsense.
We spoke about this last night and my daughter said that she hasn’t used Twitter in well over a year. She only texts about 3 people (outside of her parents). She only uses instagram for her hobby (she collects disney pins, and there is a LOT of that happening on instagram). She only goes on facebook to keep in touch with 2 friends who are long distance, and our long distance family members.
I asked her if this was just a change for her, or if it was common among the kids in her grade, and she emphatically said it was most of the upperclassmen.
So, that posed a few questions.
Q: When kids are at the table, nose in the phone, what’s the deal?
A: They are bored. You are talking about things we either shouldn’t be listening to, or we don’t know anything about. It’s not interesting or we just don’t know how to participate in the conversation. So, we read.
Q: Then how do parents get their kids to engage in the conversation?
A: Parents need to engage their kids, don’t just demand they put the phone down and talk. Instead parents need to talk about the things that their kids are interested in. Talk with them, not at them.
Q: What about all of these apps and things that kids are using?
A: Totally be aware of what your kids are doing, keep up on it. And be apart of that life, text your kids, sit down and share videos and pictures with each other. Try to understand the appeal for yourself.
Q: Kids are spending a LOT of time on their phones, parents don’t like this. What do we do about it?
A: Most of it is boredom, so don’t freak out about it. Instead do stuff with them, giving them something to do other than the phone… and that doesn’t mean “clean your room”. Go places that interest them, encourage hobbies that are off the phone, give them money to go hang out with their friends, be willing to drive them, etc.
My daughter really believes that as our kids begin to have a more active life, the phones will minimize. However, that doesn’t mean we let our kids forget how to be present. We can’t expect it, but we model it and teach it. When my kids see that when I am with them that I ignore phone calls, texts and notifications… they are learning presence. When they see me give their father that same attention, they learn how to be present with their future spouse too.
We just can’t forget that social media also allows our kids to have presence in the lives in their friends as they celebrate exciting things with them, or console them when they are down. Just like anything, social media is just a tool. We must shape the heart of the user.