Parenting: teens

6 ways parents in Hong Kong and everywhere can help teens addicted to mobiles

American teens spend 9 hours a day on average using electronic media. Hongkongers under 30 spend 2.8 hours a day on mobiles. Here are some ideas for striking a healthy balance in technology use

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 May, 2016, 10:15pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 May, 2016, 10:15pm

Half of America’s teenagers say they feel addicted to their mobile devices.

That’s right, 50 per cent of teenagers actually admitted that they feel addicted. Just imagine what the real number is.

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Not only do teenagers feel they can’t put their devices down, but their parents know it (59 per cent) and many parents themselves can’t put their own devices down (27 per cent).

This according to a new report by Common Sense Media, which also found that teens feel their parents are addicted as well.

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“Digital devices have transformed people’s lives. They are changing everything from parent-child relationships, to human interaction, to our ability to focus on the task at hand,” says James Steyer, founder and chief executive of Common Sense, an organisation that studies and rates media and technology for kids and families.

“And, particularly for young people who are growing up as digital natives, it has public health concerns.”

A study of 60,500 internet users worldwide by Connected Life and global research consultancy TNS said the average millennial aged 16 to 30 in Hong Kong spends 2.8 hours a day on their mobile devices.

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With technology blending into our lives in ways that we never could have imagined just a decade ago, it’s tricky to decide what’s OK and what is just the way we live now. It’s difficult to find a balance and to set boundaries, for our children and ourselves.

For instance, 48 per cent of parents feel they have to answer emails and texts immediately, and 72 per cent of teenagers say they need to; 69 per cent of parents say they check devices hourly while 78 per cent of teenagers do.

What impact does all of this have on our lives? According to the report, it’s led to multitasking that our brains, and certainly our children’s brains, can’t handle. In fact, high percentages of teenagers admitted that they watched TV, used social media and texted while doing homework. (And yet most teens didn’t think their multitasking harmed the quality of their work.)

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The report also found that devices are impacting our relationships. Of the parents surveyed, 77 per cent feel teenagers get distracted by devices and don’t pay attention when they are together and 41 per cent of teenagers say the same about their parents. Screens are also impacting our health and safety: 56 per cent of parents admit to using devices while driving – with kids in the car – and 51 per cent of teenagers see their parents checking mobile devices while driving.

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The report, which surveyed more than 1,200 American teenagers and parents, also pulled together recent reports and research on technology use and suggests the constant attention to devices is making it difficult for our children to have face-to-face conversations or learn to be empathetic. In case you still think teenagers aren’t in front of screens all that much, November’s Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens, found that teenagers in the US spend an average of nine hours daily on media.

As a true sign that both parents and teenagers recognise this is a problem, about half of parents and one-third of teenagers surveyed say they very often or occasionally try to cut down on the amount of time they spend on their devices, and 52 per cent of teenagers say they agree that they spend too much time on their mobile devices. Yes, that’s more than half of teenagers saying they are on their devices too much.

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So why not just turn all technology off and go back to pioneer days? Very funny. We all know that’s not possible, but it also wouldn’t be smart. Parents who have a balanced approach to media, and who allow their teens access to it, can guide the usage and conversation around it better, and help them find a healthy balance, Steyer says.

Need some help figuring out how to develop better balance? Common Sense offers up ways parents can help teenagers locate that sweet spot when it comes to technology use:

1. Declare tech-free zones and times. As with most things, boundaries are good. Support your kids in trying to find balance and set limits. These rules could be as simple as no phones at dinner or no texting after 9pm.

2. Check the ratings. Choose age-appropriate high-quality media and technology for your family. These things can be especially beneficial when used to form deeper relationships, allow for creativity and exploration. Encourage kids to be creative, responsible consumers, not just passive users.

3. Talk about it. Connect with your kids and support learning by talking about what they’re seeing, reading and playing. Encourage kids to question and consider media messages to better understand the role media plays in their own lives.

4. Help kids understand the effects of multitasking. As parents, we know that helping kids stay focused will only strengthen interpersonal skills and school performance. Encourage them to minimise distractions and manage one task at a time, shutting down social media while working online for homework or engaging in a conversation.

5. Walk the walk. Put your devices away while driving, at meal times and during family time. Parent role-modelling shows kids the behaviour and values you want in your home. Kids will be more open and willing participants when the house rules apply to you, too.

6. Seek expert help if needed. If you observe significant negative issues with your kids’ use of media and technology (for example: it’s harming their mental health, disrupting their relationships or hurting their academic performance) and you don’t feel equipped to address it yourself, consult your paediatrician, a psychologist, a social worker or another professional for advice.

The Washington Post, with additional reporting by Christy Leung