Kate Hawkesby: Is it really a bad thing that more teens are online?

Author
Kate Hawkesby,
Publish Date
Tue, 11 May 2021, 12:04PM

Kate Hawkesby: Is it really a bad thing that more teens are online?

Author
Kate Hawkesby,
Publish Date
Tue, 11 May 2021, 12:04PM

I found a report from the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment interesting. It showed 15 year olds in this country “spend more time on the net than their peers in all countries except Denmark, Sweden and Chile.” That’s quite something.

In terms of timeframe, it’s about 42 hours a week online. That’s “well above the OECD average of 35 hours a week and one of the biggest increases of the 79 nations in the study”.

That may come as a shock to many – but probably not if you’re currently parenting teenagers.

This is the digital generation, they have no concept of life without Google or Instagram. They're handed phones and iPads at younger and younger ages, they're skilled users of the net, more so than their parents and grandparents who didn’t get to grow up with it.

But when we hear stats like this, do we immediately associate it with being bad? All that time online, terrible, they’re not living in the real world, what are they doing, what a waste of time. We blame a lot of stuff on devices.

But, as the experts will tell you, it’s less about time spent online, and more about what they’re actually doing there. If they’re watching YouTube tutorials on the periodic table, is that really all that bad? What if they’re online reading and learning?

But we tend to associate teens time spent online with all the bad stuff, sitting on social media or watching mindless vloggers.

But what I’m discovering as our kids get older is that they’re actually more discerning about what they watch online. They find the learning aspects more helpful than the entertainment or social media bits. In fact, there’s a trend towards less social media these days – kids are sick of the anxiety-producing nature of it, the falseness of it, they find it too time consuming, too negative, often too toxic. And they’re vetting that stuff for themselves. 

They’re deleting their social media, there’s even been a movement back to flip phones – ones where you just get to call or text and that’s it. They don’t have the time or inclination for emojis and mindless scrolling anymore, they’re sick of it. Maybe that’s why Facebook is the domain of older people these days

So the big question with stats like this is, are these large numbers of hours online productive or not?

Well the report also showed, “NZ was one of just five countries where use of digital devices at school was associated with better performance in reading.”  So are devices in fact proving more of a help than a hindrance?

If this is the case, maybe we should we get off kids backs about time spent online, and instead look at the benefits they may be getting from it.