Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Five facts about teenagers and smartphones

"The words that teens use when speaking of their smartphones can be concerning," writes Shelley. "I can't tell if it's the language of passion, obsession or addiction." Photo / Getty
"The words that teens use when speaking of their smartphones can be concerning," writes Shelley. "I can't tell if it's the language of passion, obsession or addiction." Photo / Getty

These days some children have smartphones from the age of eight or nine years.
Goodness knows why. I'd arbitrarily decided thirteen or fourteen might be a more suitable age for my daughter to have one. Again, goodness knows why.

The problem is that this sort of technology is pretty much stock standard equipment for teenagers today. Parents have been brainwashed into thinking children should have smartphones. So instead of there being a discussion about whether such devices are even suitable for young people, the debate centres around what age is appropriate.

My daughter was twelve-and-a-half when she took possession of a smartphone last October. In my haze of post-purchase dissonance, I struggle now to remember what motivated this. Maybe pester power?

The perceived sheer inevitability was no doubt a factor, too. I guess I thought it might be nice for her to be able to communicate easily with friends.

I also wanted her to have the benefit of parental supervision while trying to understand the nuances of this technology.

So, having had a brief crash course, I've made five discoveries about teenagers and smartphones.

1: Other parents are (allegedly) soft

Apparently, I am the only mother in the world who confiscates her child's smartphone from time to time. A condition of her receiving this device was that I can access it and execute random checks but she's not thrilled about this.

I am told that no other parent expects her child to account for every call made. My rule is: if you can't tell me who owns each telephone number listed on my Vodafone bill, then I'm going to ring it and find out for myself.

2: Smartphone usage is a communal activity

You know how adults will usually feel guilty and explain why they have to consult their smartphone while in the company of others in a social setting? Well, teenage etiquette is completely different. In fact, if you're a teen mingling with other teens you're virtually expected to have your smartphone glued to your hand.

My daughter had a friend around home and the girls spent most of their time together unapologetically using their respective smartphones. I've seen evidence of two girls having a private Instagram chat to each other while in the same room, and I heard from one university student that her flat-mates Snapchat each other while sitting together on the same sofa. It makes my head spin.

3: Smartphones suit any setting or occasion

There is no occasion or time of day in which teenagers think a smartphone is not a suitable accessory. Left to their own devices, they use them everywhere and at all times.

So it falls to the parents to legislate in this regard. At home our daughter is not allowed to remove her smartphone from the kitchen/family zone. Furthermore, her smartphone may not be accessed between the hours of 7.30pm and 7am. There are other rules. I am making them all up as I go along.

4: Smartphone policies vary from school to school

I've heard of one high school that had a hardline policy towards smartphones. If a student was caught with one, it would be confiscated and would only be released to a parent or caregiver. This unequivocal approach really appeals to me but my daughter's school is much more accepting of this technology.

The students are permitted to use them at lunch and interval but not in class. Yet this seems like quite a loose policy as most of them use their smartphone at the end of class to take a photo of the work that's been set for them on the board. In our day we scribbled down these instructions in an exercise book. Children today don't know how lucky they are. We had it tough, we did.

I don't even know why smartphones should be routinely accepted at schools. Apart from distracting students from lessons, sport and face-to-face communication with real people, what purpose do they serve?

In that spirit, I imposed four smartphone-free days on my daughter last week. Until the school introduces occasional technology-free days into the schedule, it's up to parents to try to minimise children's reliance on these devices.

5: Smartphones are very important

The words that teens choose to use when speaking of their smartphones can be concerning. I can't tell if it's the language of passion, obsession or addiction but sometimes it just seems too extreme.

In the words of the lab-rat on which I hone my parenting skills: "You're not just taking away my technology, you're taking away all my friends." That's verging on too dramatic for me. If I was a hardline parent that sentiment could easily have precipitated an unscheduled, enforced and, possibly, prolonged smartphone-free situation. It's lucky for her then that I'm so chilled about the whole teen-technology dynamic.

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Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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