It can often seem like teenagers are using technology and the internet for a large part of the day. And it’s hard to know where the line falls between safe, rewarding use and overuse of technology. This page can help you to find out more about how your child uses technology, whether they are using it responsibly, and when there might be a problem with how they are spending their time online.
This page can help if you want to know:
- why teenagers use technology so much and what they’re using it for
- about the risks and effects of technology on teenagers
- what problems to look out for
- how to help your child use technology safely.
How and why teenagers use technology
Understanding teenagers and technology can seem a little overwhelming. It sometimes seems like teenagers’ lives revolve around their phones and technology. From the internet and social media, to phones, apps, games, television and other types of technology, it’s easy to wonder whether it’s all too much. Technology is increasingly becoming an essential part of our lives, and many young people – often referred to as ‘digital natives’ – haven’t known it any other way.
Young people use the internet and social media to:
- connect with, comment on and discuss things with others, through social networking, emailing and online messaging
- find, create or share interesting photos, videos and articles
- join or follow interest groups
- play online games
- learn more about topics that interest them
- as a study tool for school.
Potential benefits of technology for teens
Young people love going online, for very good reason. By using the internet, they can:
- easily access information to inform and educate themselves
- maintain and develop supportive relationships
- form their identities (through self-expression, learning and talking)
- promote a sense of belonging and self-esteem through staying connected with friends and being involved in diverse communities.
Research shows that the things that help young people have a positive experience online are:
- having a good understanding of the internet and how online media work (including things like privacy settings)
- having the skills to critically understand, analyse and create content that adds value for themselves and others.
If young people understand what it means to be a good ‘digital citizen’, you have every reason to trust them with managing their own internet use, just as you trust them to act responsibly when they’re at school and out with friends.
Potential risks for teenagers
Potential risks online are closely related to issues young people can experience at school, at home and in the community. It’s important to remember that, just as teenagers need to have good boundaries and rules for offline behaviour, and the guidance and morals to make good decisions, they also need these things to protect them when online.
Some risks associated with being online are:
- Cyberbullying: This is when people use technology to embarrass, harass or bully someone. Cyberbullying can include posting mean or untrue statements, making fake online profiles intended to embarrass people, sharing embarrassing photos, and more.
- Trolling: This is when people deliberately try to start arguments or to upset people on the internet, often causing considerable distress.
- Isolation: Too much time spent online and using technology is time not spent face-to-face with family and friends, which can create barriers and contribute to a sense of isolation.
- Inappropriate material: Teenagers posting inappropriate pictures or content online, or sharing such material with friends, may humiliate themselves or others.
- Inappropriate relationships: Strangers or others may try to form inappropriate relationships with young people.
Being aware of these risks is the first step in helping your teenager to manage them.
How much time are young people spending on screen-based activity?
A 2011–12 study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicated that young people aged from 5 to 17 years spend, on average, just over 2 hours per day on screen-based activity, compared to 1.5 hours per day on physical activity. Just under half of 2- to 17-year-olds had access to at least one type of screen (TV, computer, phone, etc.) in their bedrooms. For 15- to 17-year-olds, this figure goes up to 75 per cent.
More recent statistics on teenage internet use (2014–15) indicate that 15- to 17-year-olds:
- spend an average of 18 hours per week online (just over 2 hours per day)
- are most likely to use the internet for social networking (91 per cent), entertainment (73 per cent) and formal education activities (73 per cent).
What is a healthy limit to set for my teenager?
Two hours used to be the golden rule for the amount of screen time young people should be allowed per day. That’s now being revised because it just isn’t realistic in the modern world where technology is used for education and social networking, as well as for entertainment. It’s more important to set limits on recreational screen time, and to focus on the quality of what your children are doing on their devices.
Ask questions like:
- Where is my child looking for information? How do they know it’s good quality?
- What kind of games and apps is my child using?
- Are they almost always using their screen time for distraction or procrastination?
These sorts of questions will help you find the line between healthy and unhealthy use of technology for your family.
It’s all about balance
All of us, especially young people, need to learn how to exercise moderation in the things we spend time on. Technology for teens is fun and allows them to stay connected to their friends and family, which is important. Some teenagers will do this by spending a lot of time connecting with their friends on social media, or by hanging out with other ‘gamers’ when playing multi-player games online. That’s okay!
But it’s important to support them to balance that with face-to-face time with people, and to make sure they leave enough time in their week for physical exercise, learning, and other types of play.