Teens and Technology: Navigating the Unknown

We are living in an unprecedented time. Technology is shifting and transforming the cultural landscape underneath us and our kids are navigating a virtual world we know little about. In a world where we grew up with cassettes and dial up, it is easy to feel adrift in the sea of uncertainty around social media and technology.

But, with knowledge comes power, and Luke Martin of In The Know Parenting gave this gift to our parents last night, sharing candidly about the sobering realities that lie a few clicks away on popular apps such as Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube and how important it is to open up conversations with our kids about their consumption of social media.

Our teens are growing up in an age of influencers and brands – where the creation of public personas becomes currency and they feel the pressure to maintain this image to an audience at all times. Luke challenged us not to see social media as a privacy issue, but reframed our perspective to allow us to realise that the posting of content is public and has lasting ramifications not only on peers (in situations such as cyberbullying) but on their employability and chances of getting into university later on. Ultimately, as parents we are in charge of what rules we set governing social media consumption and we are also important role models in their lives.

Technology is transforming our culture and marketing lines are becoming blurred as many celebrities and influencers receive handsome payments for spruiking products for companies. Luke opened our eyes to the behind the scenes realities of this industry and also encouraged us to train our kids to think critically about what they see. Instead of simply comparing themselves to the airbrushed perfection that abounds on Instagram, guide them to notice the hashtags and subtext and become active consumers who pursue values rather than influence.

It wouldn’t be a comprehensive session without confronting the sobering realities of the porn industry and its influence on social media. Sadly, we learned that the average age of exposure to pornography is now between 8-11 years old and the porn industry is actively seeking ways of finding our children online in order to create dependent consumers later on. From creating pornographic animated versions of kids’ shows to researching the typical misspellings and keystrokes to redirect to explicit content, we need to face the reality that our kids will see awful things online at some point and it is our responsibility to be having honest conversations with them whenever we can. This may be uncomfortable and awkward, but Luke challenged us to see it as the lesser of the evils or ‘short term pain for long term gain’. When kids obtain education about sex and sexuality through social media and pornography, they are coming away with damaging ideas about consent, about the place of violence against females and feeding a dark addiction that can only lead to destruction.

While the realities of technology and social media can seem overwhelming, it is important not to lose heart. We have such an important role to play in shaping the rules governing screen use and can set in place family habits that are healthy for everyone. Knowledge is power and the more we know about the apps our kids are using and the sites that they frequent, the more we can engage in healthy discussions, be digital mentors and help our teens navigate this complicated world with wisdom.

What a privilege it is to have people like Luke stand in the gap and provide valuable and insightful information about this complex topic.

If you are interested in more information here are some helpful links:

In the Know Parenting – Empowering Informed Parenting

iParent  – an initiative of the eSafety Commissioner

Commonsense media  – reviews for appropriate age brackets on shows, movies, apps and games

Family Zone – a home internet use regulation provider available by subscription

Qustodio – parental control app for regulating internet use

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