Last night as I watched the CNN Special Report "#Being13" I was reminded of my “younger years”. As I watched a young girl cry and throw a fit over her phone being taken away, I was appalled, but I bet if you ask my parents they would tell you that I threw a similar fit when they grounded me from AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). Because just like teens with their smartphones, I was “obsessed” with AIM. The need to be connected to my friends was compulsive, I had a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out) and I also wanted to have a space to gain some independence.
The truth of the matter is that teenagers themselves haven’t really changed. They still long for acceptance and crave some space to flex their wings. And it should be expected that they will make some mistakes along the way because they are learning. Technology hasn’t transformed them into aliens, as my mom would say “teenagers have always been aliens”.
All jokes aside I was disappointed with the report because it failed to mention all of the good things happening to teenagers because of technology. It didn’t mention the educational benefits. How resources and tools are literally right in the hands of teens, allowing them to expand their knowledge on any given topic. What about college? Being connected allows students to create online portfolios of their work to increase their chances of getting into the school of their choice. Or having a better idea of what they want to get their degree in.
Communication is improving. It might look slightly different than the classic phone call but texting, video chats and social networking are helping teens maintain relationships. They are helping them stay connected to families and friends. They are connecting people separated by distance. In fact, I am going as far to say that they are learning communications skills that will help them in future employment.
They are able to develop new interests such as coding, blogging, new languages, crafts, etc. Online they can research and watch videos of faraway places and gain some perspective on different cultures. They can learn to appreciate the work other people are doing.
What to do Instead of Panicking
Before we jump to the extreme and (try to) disconnect our teens, we need to realize that their experience online is what we help them make it. It is important that parents sit down and have ongoing conversations with teens about their online behavior. These conversations need to be positive, don’t assume that they are mixed up in bad behavior online. Instead, ask them about their online interests, about their favorite apps. Ask them to show you what it means to be tagged in a photo. Take some time to review ethical behavior and remind them that if they wouldn’t do it offline they shouldn’t do it online. Respect that they want to explore and use online forms of communication.
When it comes to being connected at 13, I prefer to look at the glass as half full, because the opportunities that technology presents to teens outweigh the risks.