The following article is a guest post from Jessica Freeman.
Jessica Freeman is a blogger and freelance writer from Sydney, Australia. She enjoys covering various topics, from education and technology to motivation and productivity. She also has her own blog where she presents top writing tips. Follow Jessica on Google+ and Twitter.
The Internet: all bad? Or a potential source of education for our kids?
Open the door to your teenager’s bedroom at any given moment, and chances are you’ll find them lying on the bed, on their phone or laptop, their two thumbs working systematically like mechanical typewriter keys. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat – just a few of the social media platforms modern kids engage in every day. And not just for a few minutes a day.
According to a large-scale study conducted by Common Sense Media, a US “nonprofit focused on helping children, parents and educators navigate the world of media and technology,” young people spend – wait for it -nine hours a day using media for their enjoyment. The study explored how kids aged 8 to 18 in the U.S. use media, studying their level of enjoyment, frequency of use, and amount of time they devote to a wide array of media activities and devices.
“It just shows you that these kids live in this massive 24/7 digital media technology world, and it’s shaping every aspect of their life. They spend far more time with media technology than any other thing in their life. This is the dominant intermediary in their life.” – James Steyer, chief executive officer and founder of Common Sense Media
Australia is no different. A similar study, Aussie teens online, released by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA) shows that at June 2015, over 935,000 teens (82% of all teens) had gone online in the previous four weeks.
And another study, also by the ACMA, Australians’ digital lives, went even further. This study looked at all Australians and not surprisingly found that we are all online! According to it:
“Younger people (those aged 18–44) are the most active digital citizens, with 100 percent of this age group going online in the six months to May 2014. But older Aussies (those aged 65 and over) aren’t too far behind, with 68 percent also going online during this period.”
We’re all online! But is this worse for our teens?
Is this constant use of the Internet somehow worse for our children, than it is for adults? And what are our responsibilities regarding our children’s Internet use for us as parents trying to raise “successful children”? To be clear, by success we mean kids who grow up to have meaningful lives, are independent, emotionally stable, have good morals and healthy relationships. Does children’s frequent use of social media threaten this, or can it be a good thing?
Many parents’ knee-jerk reaction is that any time spent on social media is inherently bad. One of our biggest fears is that our children hook up with strangers who then groom them for sexual encounters or abuse. Another is cyberbullying: that our children will be victimized online by other children, on a worldwide viral stage. While there are certainly possibilities that these terrible things might happen, it is actually very rare. More often the abuser is someone we know (a family friend or a caretaker) than the “monster behind the modem”.
And if truth be told, it is ironic that despite many parents being super concerned about online grooming, cyberbullying and the like, research shows that many of ushave no idea what our children are actually doing online. We just feel fearful that what whatever it is might get them into trouble. But we are not actually engaged in their worlds. So, what are our teens doing online?
So, what are our teens doing online?
The figure below shows Online activities undertaken by teen Internet users between June 2011 and June 2015. It is taken from the study, Aussie teens online, also done by AMAC. It shows that while young people do spend a lot of time their time on entertainment and communication, they also spend time on general researching and browsing.
If we break this down further, as the figure below does, we see that teens are on the Internet for career research and news and information.
This is important information for us. It illustrates that it’s not all fun and games for children on the Internet: they are using it for life skills uses too. And it’s no good for us as parents to wish it away. It’s here to stay, and let’s face it, it’s as much a part of our lives as adults too!
What parents can do to help their teens use the Internet well
Let’s focus on the positive uses of the Internet. Here are some pointers to encourage healthy Internet use for your kids. These suggestions are ways that you can get involved in a part of your teen’s Internet life, doing things online together that are mutually rewarding.
- Our teens are already using the Internet to do research. They want information, and they use the Internet to get it. Encourage them to use online sources of information such as Wikipedia.
- Help them to find resources that they need while at school, or for after school. For example, if your child has done all the background work for a project, but is struggling to present it on paper, they could look at a resource such as AustralianWritings to help present a polished piece of work, which may help them getter better marks.
- Or spend time with your children looking at shaping their future lives on sites such as My Future.
- Perhaps your child wants to take a gap year. You may agree that it’s a good idea. This site has options for doing so: Adzuna.
The good, the bad and the ugly
Opening your mind to the Internet as a positive resource can help determine the path of your child’s life. That’s the good.
Sure, there are some predators out there. But again; why not use this as an opportunity to have an open discussion with your child about discernment in relationships. The Internet can be a great tool to learn about unwanted social engagement, and what are real and meaningful relationships…
And remember, some of us adults are online too, in potentially dangerous situations, looking for love! It’s not just the kids….