How teens can discuss their digital obsession with parents

It’s not easy to put your device down just to make the adult next to you happy, especially when there’s a heated group chat happening on your phone. “My...
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It’s not easy to put your device down just to make the adult next to you happy, especially when there’s a heated group chat happening on your phone.

“My mom always asks me who I’m texting, and I always tell her it doesn’t matter because she doesn’t know them,” says 19-year-old Leah Hiscott. “And even if she did know that person, what’s the point? Like, gosh mom, get out of my life!”

That’s usually where the conversation ends. It can be hard for parents to understand why young people spend so much time on their phones and social media, much less have an open dialogue about it with their kids.

“Kids are held accountable more than ever now,” Karen North, director of USC’s Annenberg Program on Online Communities, tells Mashable. “There’s never been a generation before that’s had a social world this complicated.”

Teens are more watched than ever — not just by parents breathing down their necks but all over social media, too.

Teens coming of age in 2016 are more watched than ever — not just by parents breathing down their necks but all over social media, too. North explains, “You have your social being vs. your parents trying to understand it.”

The two are hard to reconcile.

As tempting as it is to ask your parents to exit your life at peak annoyance, or as 18-year-old Ben Muthalaly does, there are more constructive, positive ways to explain screen time to your parents.

“If I feel like arguing, I point out their own excessive technology use to deflect attention,” he says.

For example, some parents want to stop what they don’t understand. If they don’t fully “get” what you’re doing online, try explaining it to them. #maturity #adulting

Let’s take a look at a few examples:

“Why aren’t you studying?”

Kendall and Kylie Jenner take a selfie.

Image: Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

  • Parent: “You say you’re studying, but I see you on your phone.”

  • Stephanie Musico, 15: “It’s ironic how you see me on my phone right as I take a break. It’s healthy to take a break while studying or else I’ll be more stressed than I actually am.”

It’s true! Research has repeatedly shown that taking short breaks from studying — whether it be going for frozen yogurt or using Snapchat — keeps us refreshed and productive. “Our minds need an occasional rest in order to stay alert and productive, and you can look forward to a reward as you study,” according to MIT’s study tool guide.

“Who are you texting?”

  • Parent: “Who are you texting?”

  • Kat Reda, 16: “I’m talking to my friend because she wants to hang out over the weekend, and we’re trying to figure out what we are doing.”

North of USC suggests teens give parents specific examples to show the context of why they’re “plugged in,” even when they’re at the dinner table or doing their chores. 

“For generations, people complained about kids watching TV and not getting things done,” North explains. “The problem today is that digital media is an obvious queue of not getting work done. Parents are more worried about their kids attending to their responsibilities than the social value of being online. They still see social media as a frivolous time-waster.”

“Give me your phone now.”

  • Parent: “Give me your phone now.”

  • Alexa Aquino, 15: “I don’t look into your personal conversations. You shouldn’t pry into mine.”

North notes that some problems lie in trust, especially of the unknown. “It’s anxiety-inducing to parents because they don’t know how to teach safety and responsibility regarding emerging platforms.” On the other hand, kids don’t always want to disclose private info to their parents or supervisors. After all, teens always have and always will want to maintain their own social identity without the their parents watching.

“It’s my property because I bought it for you.”

  • Parent: “Do you ever get off your phone?”

  • Tara Mild, 17: “Sometimes. I need to talk to people about homework right now.”

  • Parent: “So, when you’re done, you can get off of it.”

  • Mild: “Well, I have other things to do on there when I’m not doing homework.”

  • Parent: “It’s my property because I bought it for you. Give it to me.”

Digital devices are just as much part of a teen’s identity as the way they dress or the music they listen to.

It’s understandable parents want to be able to scroll through property they’ve paid for (such as phones, tablets, laptops, etc.). However, digital devices are just as much part of a teen’s identity as the way they dress or the music they listen to. When asked to hand over a parent-bought device, teens should calmly explain why they need to use it at that moment, the consequences of not replying to important notifications, such as school emails, North suggests.

“Kids today navigate a more complicated social scene than ever,” North says. “With instant notifications, it becomes way more difficult. We all have to explain that we’re all trying to understand this together.”

So teens, next time an adult tells you to “look up and get off your phone,” use one of these data-backed talking points to calmly explain why it’s not that simple. Your patience will go a long way. And hey, they might even learn something.

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