Smartphones and teenagers: Four tips for smart usage

Posted : 17 August 2017

By Miss Adele Crane
Director of Student Wellbeing

In today’s world of technology, it can be rare to find a teenager who doesn’t own a smartphone device. A Roy Morgan survey published in 2016 found that 91% of Australian teenagers have a mobile phone – 94% being smartphones.

Twenge cheekily suggests in her 2017 article Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? that some teenagers today may struggle to display the appropriate facial expression in a challenging situation, but are able to instantly post the ‘right’ emoji.

The average teenager (and adult) checks their phone first thing in the morning when they wake up, and again at the end of the day before going to sleep. Teenagers are constantly connected to others and a variety of information through their smartphones.

We are used to monitoring our teenagers’ computer use through various filters, regular checks and other methods, however teenagers have access to their smartphones wherever they are and it can be difficult to monitor. So, is this positive or harmful and what are the effects? Does the use of smartphones help our teenagers to feel more valued by others? As with most things in life, there are pros and cons to consider.

Are smartphones a friend?

  • Smartphones can bring happiness when they allow teenagers to build and strengthen real connections.
  • Smartphones allow teenagers to access to a wealth of information to help them make informed choices, find directions if lost and learn from others across the globe.
  • Smartphones can buy security and peace of mind for teenagers and their parents as both can be contacted in case of emergency.
  • Smartphones provide assistance for those who can find social situations difficult or those who cannot be at school due to factors such as illness or geographically remote locations.
  • Smartphones can develop a teenagers’ skills of flexibility and help to build their confidence in using technology.

Are smartphones our foe?

  • Smartphones can reduce the times teenagers interact in person with others, which can negatively impact on the development of their social skills.
  • Fomo (Fear of missing out) can be more prominent. Girls particularly can experience the pain of feeling left out when observing their friend’s posts.
  • Smartphones can open up the possibility for our teenagers to be exposed to or participate in hurtful behaviours and communication (eg. cyberbullying, blackmail).
  • According to Dr Twenge, teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.
  • In some instances, addiction to accessibility and use of smartphones can occur, with some social commentators raising concerns that some teenagers like their phone more than the people around them.

Smartphones are a tool and we need to teach teenagers how to use their smartphones in a helpful way, and educate them about the potential impacts.

Here are our top four tips on smart usage:

  1. Define the problem
    If you feel your child might have an issue with their smartphone use, measure the time they spend on their smartphone through Breakfree, an app that measures how often and for what purpose a smartphone is used. Campbell suggests that the average person checks their phone 150 times a day. You need to determine the appropriate amount of use for your teenager.
  2. Model the expectation
    Use your smartphone the way you would like your teenager to use their smartphone. Teenagers are quick to observe and determine if a situation is fair. If you want your teenager to use their phones less, you need to do this as well.
  3. Set boundaries
    Place guidelines on the use of smartphones and maintain these. This may include time limits and areas where they are not to be used (eg. bedrooms, dinner table). Limits can also be placed with photo plans, which can also develop budgeting skills.
  4. Consider a dumbphone
    A dumphone (a phone with no internet connectivity or special features) could be beneficial for your teenager. Alternatively, establish times where your teenager is to switch off the smart capabilities on their phone. Determine what the key purposes are of your teenager’s phone to help guide your decision.

As part of Penrith Anglican College’s Wellbeing program, students explore the impact of social media and technology usage on their relationships during their daily Mentor Group time. For more information on the College’s Wellbeing Program click here.

If you or someone you know is struggling or needs help, please contact Headspace, Lifeline, Kids Helpline or Beyond Blue.