Let me first admit to a universal truth for most men. We don’t understand a single thing about teenage girls.
I didn’t have a clue when I dated them in high school. I felt like a fish out of water when I had a daughter of my own. And I don’t feel one iota smarter now that I’m in my 60s.
Those old feelings of total confusion came back home to roost recently when my wife and I hosted our three teenage nieces for two weeks. Oh, I was ready for the rolling eyes and battles to get them out of bed. That all seemed very familiar. But I was struck by what I think is a newer – and troubling – phenomenon that I don’t think I’d witnessed in my earlier tussles with young lasses.
While we were busy showing them some of the most wonderful of natural sites, flora, and fauna the U.S. has to offer, their noses were firmly buried in their iPhones. Most times, that was coupled with earbuds, so they were completely shut out of our best efforts at conversation.
I know. Teens and their fixations with their electronics isn’t that new of a thing. But what did seem new was their “lack of excitement” to things that I would have thought would have stirred them with wonder.
For example, while at a Pacific beach that was chock-full of lounging giant green sea turtles, they managed to turn their phones around, take the obligatory photo for their Instagram page, and utter a brief “That’s cute,” before plugging their buds back in and continuing to watch YouTube or Snapchat or voraciously text with their friends back home. I don’t think they’d have been that impressed if one of the turtles had stuck up its head and asked for the time. (I went to look and, yes, there are numerous videos already on YouTube of talking turtles. So, they’ve likely already seen that phenomenon in “real life.”)
Ocean sunsets that bring tears to the eyes of us older folks barely elicit a response at all from our visiting wired youths. After all, they’d actually have to go outside to see the splendor, and it happens every evening anyway, right?
These stats are scary
Am I overreacting to the desensitizing of our teens? Take a look at these stats on teen social media use from the Pew Research Center and draw your own conclusions.
- 92 percent of teens go online daily, and 24 percent say they go online “almost constantly.”
- 76 percent of teens use social media (81% of older teens, 68 percent of teens aged 13 to 14).
- 71 percent of teens use Facebook, 52 percent use Instagram, 41 percent use Snapchat, 33 percent use Twitter, and 14 percent use Tumblr. (If you only know about the first two, you were born before JFK was shot).
- 77 percent of parents say they feel their teens get distracted by their devices and don’t pay attention when they are together. (That is the observation that originally got me thinking.)
- 59 percent of parents say they feel their teen is addicted to their mobile device.
- 50 percent of teens admit that they feel addicted to their mobile device.
Here’s why the Grandparent Generation should be concerned for these kids:
Research increasingly shows that this addiction to social media is a gateway to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Kids who already feel isolated and unhappy are particularly vulnerable. Teens and social media addiction are a very unfortunate match.
A recent CNN study on 13-year-olds and their relationship with social media (#Being13) found that 13-year-olds who checked their networking sites 50 to 100 times a day were 37 percent more distressed than those who checked it just a few times.
So, what’s a grandparent to do?
Your options aren’t completely limited. First, recognize that your own kids – likely now at least in their 30s and the parents of your teen grandkids – have also been tainted by social media and may have their own problems with it.
Yet RVing grandparents have a tool most “grounded” grandmas and grandpas don’t. You have a house on wheels, and you can volunteer to take the grandkids for an extended trip. This is your chance to help them detox from their devices.
The secret here is to not be draconian about your methods. Recognize that social media addiction is just like any other. Taking devices away and making them stop “cold turkey” will only cause extra resentment and many more of those eye rolls I mentioned earlier. Instead, apply steady encouragement to set the electronics aside and experience the wonders around them. Expect there to be a lot of resistance. This is going to take every moment of the time you have with them to have any effect.
A great tool is to take your RV to remote areas where you know Wi-Fi and cell service will be sketchy. Hey, it’s not your fault that their YouTube just sits there and buffers. This is one instance where finding a campground with no Wi-Fi is a huge plus.
The real trick is to observe how your grandkids are using social media and be aware that a problem is likely to exist already. At best, there is an issue with it where you can help.
Be open with the grandkid’s parents. They likely know the addiction exists but have long ago given up the effort in exchange for the peace that comes with teens using earbuds.
Who knows? You might actually see the light of wonder come back into your grandkid’s eyes during your RV excursion. At the very least, they’ll (eventually) remember the time that Grandma and Grandpa took them on that trip and actually made a sincere effort to connect. Breaking the cycle of social media addiction is worth your time.
I’ve included links to a few more articles on the subject below. I’d also love to hear what more of you have to say about your own encounters with teens and their electronics, especially those special tricks you’d like to pass along to the rest of us. Please leave a comment below.
- The Power of the Like in Adolescence: Effects of Peer Influence on Neural and Behavioral Responses to Social Media
- Online Social Networking & Mental Health
- Development of a Facebook Addiction Scale
- Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults
- The Relationship Between Online Social Networking & Depression