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Teenagers today seem overloaded by things to do and information to absorb. It's not unusual for a young person to come home from school, turn on the TV and computer and be messaging friends while watching a programme with one eye, texting with the other.
How teenagers use technology
This article looks at how, and to what extent, tecnology fulfils our teenagers' needs. And it often does. Watching programmes on TV can be an excellent way of acquiring information. It is also a form of social networking in that teenagers by watching the same programme not only have something to talk about with friends, but reinforce the bonds they have with each other by doing so. TV programmes can also raise important discussion points - issues of relationships, sexuality, politics, the environment - and can trigger your teenager to ask questions, or allow you to check out their knowledge and opinions.
Using the internet and mobile phones keeps teenagers connected, not only to their friends but to a broader range of people which widens their horizons. So on the surface of it, stimulation doesn't seem to be a problem. Except, as with anything, too much of the same can get you in a rut. Some young people become stuck in repetitive actions. Rather than learning new things from their access, they’re simply repeating the same thing over and over. And if internet access and TV is available in bedrooms, what actually happens is that although the teenager may be connecting with people outside the home, they are not doing so with their family in the home.
Staying fit and healthy
Teenagers also need stimulation from activities and that doesn't just mean clubs or meeting friends, but physical excercise. Young children tend to keep fit by rushing around in school breaks but teenagers can need support in keeping active so that it becomes part of their adult lifestyle. It they're not attending after-school sports activities - and even if they are - it's important that exercise is something the family does together. It's another opportunity to spend time with your teen, try running, cycling, swimming or going to a gym.
What helps your teenager?
Recognising the value of what they are doing on technology, whether computer or mobile phone, raises their self-esteem. Teenagers are often unaware of their skill in this area, and it's important that you give them positive feedback. However, parents need to be the ones to make some rules and boundaries about sensible use. You might like to insist, for instance, that all mobiles - including your own - are off or on silent during shared family meals and maybe even use the answer machine to screen landline calls as well. TVs and computers should be off too, and meals taken around a table not on laps. And teenagers may moan and groan, huff and puff but they need you to set some guidelines about physical activity and to lead the way in making regular exercise something you all do, together. Apart from doing your best for your child as a parent in this, you’ll be doing yourself a favour too!
Rest and sleep
As well as stimulation and activity, teenagers need rest and relatation; sometimes this can be the hardest thing for them to fit in. With all the rushing around, games, websites, TV, texts, instant messages calling to them, some are on the go from the time they get up to the time they go to sleep.
Parents often complain that teenagers do nothing but slump around and sleep and are impossible to wake up in the morning, but that can be for several reasons. Read more about teenagers and sleep. Addictive stimulation from screens and headphones can also contribute to teenagers feeling tired. Those with TVs and computers in their bedrooms can often end up with a sleep deficit. As a result they can be difficult to wake in the morning - they might only have had six, five or even four hours sleep when they need at least eight.
Teenagers often feel that part of growing up means staying up until the adults go to bed - which has probably been an ambition since they were two. It may be hard to argue with someone your height that being under 18 still means an earlier bedtime is advisable. If they have TV and computers in their bedroom, you may also lose control over what they do when that door is shut. And of course, friends may still be sending texts and emails or chatting on networking sites until into the morning. Your adolescent is likely to pass on to you the pressure they are under, to allow all this. Or will insist that you don’t have the right to resist. But you do - and that’s actually what they need from you. You could make bedrooms tech-free zones - no TV, game consoles, mobiles - which means you too. This may seem hard but it will pay off in a reduction in tiredness, stress and tension.
You may find it helpful to visit Internet Matters for lots of information on online activity. It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.