Is Your Teen Becoming Lost in Cyber-Reality?
Deciding how much online time is healthy is a question that almost every parent with teenaged children has to grapple with. There are few easy answers, and if you want to start a fight with your child, just try telling he or she that you are thinking of setting some limits. It’s pretty obvious at this point that smartphones and tablets have become more than just tools - for many kids, the technology almosts seems to be the center of their existence.
Between chatting, gaming, watching YouTube videos and surfing the net for a variety of other content, teens often seem completely absorbed in the cyber-world. It’s understandable how kids become so addicted to their devices - we adults have certainly also become dependent on the new technologies, to the point where life without Internet and smart devices is almost unthinkable for many of us.
Understanding the Issues
So what’s wrong with spending one’s free time online? If a teen’s grades are good and he or she is staying out of trouble, then what’s the problem? The Internet is a wonderful tool for exploring and learning, developing some useful skills and for simply being entertained. Many parents are happy to see their kids in their rooms absorbed in something online rather than having to wonder about their activities and whereabouts outside the safety zone of the home.
But most parents realize that kids also need fresh air, exercise, face-to-face social interaction and other types of activities beyond staring at a screen blasting aliens or chatting in abbreviated English. It’s tempting to let smartphones be a sort of electronic babysitter - many of our parents used television in the same way when we were growing up. Kids need lots of mental, visual and audio stimulation to keep from getting bored and the Internet offers plenty of all three.
Of course, there should limits to how much time is spent on these devices. And there is much content on the Internet that is not healthy for anyone, much less a child or teenager. So in this article, we will try to examine these issues and help parents in deciding what sort of limits are appropriate and how to enforce them. There is no one formula - every parent must make their own decisions regarding the subject - but there are some general guidelines and information that may be helpful in determining the limits for individual families.
Time Spent by Teens Online Continues to Increase
A recent study has produced some interesting results. It seems that time spent online by teens is still on the increase, and some of the statistics are quite surprising. An American research firm, GfK, has published the results of their studies on teens and internet usage in the recent past. Their research indicates that time spent online by teens between the ages of 13 and 17 has increased a whopping 37% just since 2012, and that the average teen now spends more than four hours online per day.
Interestingly, the statistics for those 18 and over have essentially remained unchanged during the same period. The study has also produced some other fascinating results. For instance, the number of teens who own tablets has doubled since 2012 (from 18% to 37%), and time spent online using tablets has increased 157% (more than half an hour per day). Smartphone usage by teens has increased 72% (more than an hour per day) and connected television usage has increased 86% (13 minutes per day).
Teen smartphone ownership has climbed 70%, with 55% of teens now carrying the devices. As prices for these devices have dropped, more teens are able to afford them.
What Do the Statistics Mean?
At this point, over half of American teens own at least a smartphone, and though the increases in ownership of Internet devices is likely to level off soon, it can be assumed that in the not-so-distant future, virtually every teen will own a smartphone or another type of mobile internet device.
For parents, these figures mean that there is more of a need than ever to establish guidelines and limits for time spent online by teens. So what do the experts have to say?
One of the guidelines that many child rearing experts (such as the American Academy of Pediatrics) agree on, is that children and teens should not be allowed to have tablets or smartphones in their bedrooms at night. This restriction alone can help to keep a teen from overdoing things, in terms of online activity.
Most experts also agree that setting limits during daytime hours is a good idea. A good rule of thumb is to limit junior high and middle-school aged children to one hour per day during the week with more free internet time on the weekends. For high school students, many experts recommend a limit of two hours online per day, with extra time for constructive projects, such as homework or developing an online business.
Once again, each parent or set of parents should set limits according to their own opinions about what is healthy for their children. In other words, if a child is doing poorly in school a different time allowance may be necessary compared to one whose grades are good. Setting up a reward system may feel appropriate - if grades improve, more online time may be given.
Discussing limits in a clear manner, while allowing the child to have some input in the matter may make things easier for everyone involved. Explaining why you are setting limits should help a child to more readily accept them, but don’t be surprised if you meet with some initial resistance. But talking to your child in a calm tone and allowing them to participate in the discussion is likely to be more effective than just announcing seemingly arbitrary time limits.
Some parents find it effective you allow children to “bank” online time - in other words, letting the teen accumulate extra hours by not going online on certain days so that they can spend a larger chunk of time when they are online. For kids who enjoy online gaming, for instance this could prove to be a very successful approach.
Monitoring Internet Activity
It’s a very good idea to not only set limits, but to be aware of what your teen is doing while online. Of course, not all children will be entirely honest when asked about their Internet activities. Another study, conducted by a marketing research team at a firm called TRU, found that 70% of teens hide at least some of their online activities from their parents.
When asked if they thought their teens had accessed pornography online, only 12% of parents answered yes. When teens were asked, it turned out that 32% of them had viewed porn online. Concerning cyberbullying, only 10% of parents thought their children had been victims, but 23.3% of children queried said that they had been the targets of online bullying.
These figures suggest that most parents are at least somewhat unaware of what their kids are really doing online. There are a lot of potential risks associated with online activity and teens, from relatively minor issues such as neglecting schoolwork in favor of gaming, to far more serious concerns such as sexual predators who use the anonymity of the web to lure young victims.
Device Monitoring Software
Many parents are finding it practical and helpful to install a cell phone tracker on their teens’ smartphones. This type of software, also known as spyware, can be very useful, not only for finding out how much time a child is spending online, but also for monitoring what type of content their children are accessing and sharing.
A good spyware package will track smartphone or tablet calling activity and allow parents to view emails and chat content. Most spy phone apps also allow parents to view the websites visited by the user as well as any pictures and videos sent and received by the targeted device. Many of these apps also provide GPS location tracking information in real time and a history of where the phone has been.
Each cell phone tracker software package offers different features, pricing and device compatibilities. There are very inexpensive packages offering the basic features and with most spyware apps on the market, there are more expensive upgrades with advanced features such as live phone call monitoring, where phone calls can be recorded and listened to.
Spy phone apps are probably the only way a parent can be fully aware of exactly what their children’s online activities really are, and they can be installed with or without the child’s knowledge. These apps are undetectable and allow remote, discreet monitoring from any internet-connected device.
This type of spyware is becoming increasingly popular, and it allows the parent to decide whether or not to tell the child that he or she is being monitored. Either way, cell phone tracking can be a very effective means of monitoring and regulating a teen’s online activities. There are a number of good independent comparison sites online which list the features, cost and relative value of the different spyware packages available on the market.