This is dangerous. With nothing better to do – or not wanting to do it – they are bound to find it difficult to keep up a “regular” conversation for hours on end.
They play games. They gossip. They exchange photos (instead of the recipes their parents do).
And sometimes, without thinking, they acquire risky behaviours, of which there are several.
We have heard more than enough instances of teens who are lured into taking provocative selfies of themselves, lured by promises of “stardom” by “talent scouts”. Some may be doing it for fun, or for a dare, or to please a boyfriend, actual or virtual.
This, again, could lead to u welcome attention by adults, or cyber-bullying by so-called buddies.
Instant polls among your teen and her friends would reveal that they have been approached at least once by a person whom they do not know. This third party may claim to be a teen or reveal himself as an adult who has either found the teen’s picture “by accident” or that he was actually “searching for teens with potential as actors/ models”. Some of them would add that they had shared things with this stranger, which they would not have shared with an acquaintance, on the spur of the moment.
It goes without saying that some of the teens would also have met their virtual ‘friends’ without realising that they had been set up for a date with an adult, who had hoped to be able to alleviate the fears of a teen by asking her to “trust him anyway because he means no harm”.
There is a great need for parents to point out latent dangers inherent in being too trustful. For starters, it must be pointed out that the rules of netiquette do not apply when a person on the other side of the screen oversteps the mark. You do not even have to excuse yourself before cutting all contact.
A good number of these teenagers will also have seen unsavoury photographs of their friends online. If there are not filters in the system, they may even have been tempted to visit sites with explicit content that they know their parents would have vetoed.
Tech-savvy teens not only know how to delete a research history – they know enough to flood their ‘pseudo-history’ with links to innocuous sites… study-related, reading and relaxation, and games-related.
It is worrying to see that the age band of children who ought to be devoting time to their studies is exactly that which spends three or more hours online every single day… and the chances are that they are not revising their history or comparing their English essays.
Digital behaviour is vastly different from that of the real world. Teenagers do not always grasp this essential truth. It is a common psychological phenomenon that even when you tell them that what they post will be online “for ever”, it is not going to cut any ice with them… not even if you tell them their future bosses will be looking up their names online and coming across their drunk-dancing-on-the-table video clips… which, again, could have been posted by their so-called friends in order to belittle them.
It is painful to see a row of locked doors in the corroder, behind which each child in a family communicates with everyone but the members of his own household… except for an e-mail from mum in the kitchen, calling them to dinner.
Sometimes, this attitude is exacerbated when teens scurry back into their rooms with their plates, in order to top up their monitor-fix.
It’s hard, and, perhaps, next to impossible…. But the sooner this vicious circle is broken, the better.
Suggest that you would like them to eat at table – and it would help if you ate a snack yourself.
You cannot wean your teen totally off the internet – especially if she uses it to research her school work and to chat with her real-life friends. Introverts and extroverts need different amounts of time to hang out with the family, or online or real-life friends. But screen time must never take over family time when this is necessary.
You can try engaging your teen in meaningful conversation – strengthening the weakened the foundations of their childhood “look at me!” attitudes. A teen who isolates herself from the family but socialises online needs to analyse her priorities.
Some teens may now find it hard to make eye-contact, used as they are to webcams. Advice usually incudes the instruction stance that “you must sit down at the same table and look into their eyes”, in order to encourage conversation, because this indicates that “you are giving them your full attention”.
However, if this makes the teen uncomfortable, why not pretend you are busy preparing lunch, or washing dishes, while keeping your ears wide open? It may be easier to carry on a conversation while your hands are busy – and it may be even more so if you ask the teen to help you because you have “other things to do”.
The nuances of speech and the tone of voice will help you catch any hints that your teen is depressed and lacking motivation even better than if you had to sit across the kitchen table, facing one another, with nothing to do but fidget and look into one another’s eyes