Teens and Technology

If your teenager has access to the internet in their bedroom, they are watching porn. You might be thinking to yourself that your kid would never do that. Or you might think I’m wrong, but statistics would say that I’m not. 

The majority of homes in the United States have wireless internet (also known as wifi). We think it’s almost a necessity now. Roughly 80% of teenagers have a smart phone (so when you kid tells you that everyone else has a smart phone, it’s not much of an exaggeration) and if you’ve ever had to pay data overage fees you’d know that having wifi is cheaper than the fees. For that small percentage of teens who don’t have a smart phone or wifi, there is probably still a computer somewhere in the house with internet access. This means they have access to 4.2 million pornography websites that make up 12% of the entire internet. 

I know none of those statistics say anything about students watching porn, but they should at least convince you that the possibility exists for them to have access to porn. But this infographic is why I can tell you that they are actually watching porn. This was based off a study done in 2008, when smart phones were just hitting the market and wifi wasn’t nearly as prevalent. And we also have to remember that this is just what people admitted to. So if you are a parent of a teenager, I sincerely hope that yours is one of the 3% of boys or 17% of girls who have never seen pornography, but the odds aren’t in your favor. 

What is probably even scarier for parents is that there is also a good chance that their teenager has sexted by sending or receiving sexual images through text messaging or apps like snap chat. One article I saw recently put the number of teens who had sexted at around 54%. Most teens have no idea what the legal ramifications can be, and there are way too many stories of students ending up on the registered sex offenders list for life because of it. 

There’s a book by Doug Fields and Jonathan McKee called “Should I Just Smash My Kid’s Phone?” that is an excellent resource for parents. It has sample phone contracts, discussion guides, and it’s designed to help you have conversations with teens about how to use technology in healthy ways. One of the things they share in the very beginning is a real conversation they had with a mom of three teens who didn’t allow her kids to use the internet. The oldest one, 19 years old, moved out so that he could use email, social media, youtube and all the other things he wasn’t allowed to do at home. He was figuring out the internet completely by himself, without guidelines or a framework for doing it responsibly or smartly. That is close to the worst thing possible. Banning all technology will not work. They will either sneak around you (bringing on feelings of hate, resentment, guilt, and so on) or they will get to discover everything on their own when they move out (which will mean binging on everything good and bad). 

I highly encourage you to find some resources about how to set up healthy boundaries and have good conversations about using technology. However in the mean time, here are a few tips.

  1. Pick which hills you are willing to die on. Not every battle is worth the fallout, heart ache, and emotional toll. 
  2. Have conversations! Don’t talk down to them. Don’t just give orders. Explain why you are doing what you’re doing. Let them ask questions. LISTEN TO WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY. 
  3. Set up realistic boundaries. Discuss why you have those boundaries, and adjust boundaries based on maturity level. Most cell phone service providers have a version of smart limits that can shut off data usage during certain times of the day, allow only certain numbers to access the phone at certain times, and a number of other things that can be very useful to parents. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. 
  4. Sit in the front seat. Just like driving a car, realize that cell phones and technology are privileges, not inherent rights. When they learn to drive, you are in the front seat with them, showing them how to drive safely. Let them know from the beginning that you will be with them through their cell phone usage. 70% of teens already try hiding their online activities from their parents. 
  5. Don’t be the helicopter parent, but stay connected to your kids world. You pay for the phone and the service fees, it’s not unreasonable for you to have the passwords to their phone or social media accounts. Be their friend/follower/whatever it’s called on whatever apps they are using. 

Nathan Persell serves as our Youth Director. When he's not leading devotions and playing basketball with teenagers, he enjoys disc golf and bike riding. Learn more about Nathan here.