Most teenagers are familiar with phrases like “put that phone down”, “are you on the computer again?” or “switch that off and go to bed”. Adolescents are always being accused of spending far too much time on electronics. But is it right for parents to tell youths to abandon gadgets in today’s world?
When my mum was a teenager, mobile phones weren’t around. If she wanted to meet friends, she’d cycle into town on her own, or sometimes get the bus, which involved standing alone at a bus stop after dark with no means of contacting her family. It was totally fine for her to do this. In fact, it was the social norm if one wanted to meet friends.
When my dad arranged to meet his friends in the evenings, he’d walk for 25 minutes into town while his friends would do the same from other directions.
In winter, he’d walk home in the dark, alone. Everybody did this.
Today is very different. Parents are far more protective and need to know our exact whereabouts at all times. In fact, our parents are known as the “helicopter parents”, due to the fact they hover around us.
Children are expected to be at home by dark, which leaves a very narrow time frame for socialising.
However, today’s teenager has the same social requirements as their parents did.
So, when young people chat on social media, it’s the equivalent of the face-to-face socialising of previous generations. We have the same need for social interaction but if we’re not allowed out, then what can we do?
I can socialise online with a cellist from Ipswich, a runner from Norfolk, a cousin from Sweden and two schoolmates at the same time, all in the safety of home.
And yes, we are aware of danger. We know that “Hayley, 14”, could be Clive, 45.
When it comes to homework or research, online resources are indispensable. Libraries often have useful material, but it’s possible to spend hours combing the shelves for relevant information and emerge with nothing but wasted time – for sometimes it isn’t there.
The internet is superior. Facts can be accessed in a split second. If I search “humans killed by badgers” I get 615,000 results in 0.68 seconds. (Irrational fear of badgers grips me.) There are vast numbers of websites, helpful or otherwise. Furthermore, you can listen to music while working online.
Some families spend hours on the sofa every evening, watching TV. But why is it more intellectually stimulating to watch EastEnders, a TV chef make unpronounceable patisserie, or B-list celebrities trying to do the Charleston, than to play a strategy game on a computer?
Yes, we do sometimes play zombie apocalypse games, but an hour on the internet can look like this: I read two news articles, I compare double bass string prices and check cinema listings. And I chat.
Wasted hours – or time well spent?