What’s the right age for kids to get a phone? If it seems like all your friends have smartphones, you may be on to something. A report by Common Sense Media found that by the age of 11, more than half of kids in the US have their own smartphone. By age 12, more than two-thirds do, and by 14, teens are just as likely as adults to own a smartphone. Some kids start much younger. Nearly 20% of 8-year-olds have their own smartphone! According to a report by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the figures are similar in Australia.
So, what’s a good for kids to get a phone? Well, I study the effects of media and technology on kids, and I’m here to say that there is no single right answer to this question. The best I can offer is this: When both you and your parents feel the time is right.
How to talk to your parents about a smartphone
Here are some points to consider to help you and your parents make this decision.
Responsibility: Have you shown that you are generally responsible? Do you keep track of important belongings? Do you understand the value of money, and can you save up to buy things you want? These are all good signs that you may be ready for a phone. If not, it might be wise to wait a bit longer.
Safety: Do you travel to or from school or after-school activities without an adult? This is when phones often go from a “want” to a “need.” Sometimes parents report that they feel better knowing they can reach their children directly, and that their kids can reach them, too.
Social maturity: Do you treat your friends with kindness and respect? Do you understand the permanence of the internet, the fact that once something goes out onto the web, it can never truly be deleted? It is critically important that you have a grasp on these issues before you own a smartphone.
We all get angry and say hurtful things we don’t mean sometimes, but when you post something on the internet that you might not mean later, or might wish you could take back, even on a so-called anonymous app, it can have real and lasting harmful effects. In the era of smartphones, there have been huge increases in cyberbullying.
Being smart about your smartphone
If you and your parents decide this is a good time to take that step, here are some tips to create a healthy relationship between you and your phone.
Parents should model good behavior! Your parents are the No. 1 most important influence in your life, and that goes for technology use as much as anything else. If parents are glued to their phones all day, guess what? Their children probably will be, too.
On the flip side, if parents model smartphone habits like putting the phone away during meals and not texting and driving, that will go a long way toward helping kids develop similar healthy behaviors.
You and your parents should talk together about the importance of setting rules and limits around your phone use and screen time. Understanding why rules are made and set in place can help kids stick to a system.
I’ve spoken with 50 Australian families – including 118 children aged 1-18 – about technology use, plus a follow-up qualitative investigation with a further 25 teens about their social media use.
My investigations show that teens’ use of social media is constantly shifting in new ways in response to changes to social media platforms, the teen’s age and social context. Social media continues to be a significant aspect of adolescence; the right information and guidance will ensure that use is positive and healthy.
Among my sample, teens often have access to multiple devices that usually include a mobile phone and a laptop. They typically dedicate their laptop use to school work, and their mobile phone use for all other parts of their life – such as socialising, connecting with family, and following interests. Teens also use their phones for some aspects of school learning, including accessing school resources, information and connecting with class peers.
Instagram is one of the most popular social media platform for teens: data from the United States shows that about 76% of this age group use it regularly. My current research shows that on any given day, a teen accesses Instagram around 10-30 times. They check likes, comments, share stories, view their friends’ latest posts, and follow their interests.
A distinctive trend in Instagram use, something that can go under the radar, is that teens increasingly have more than one account. Teens will often have a “rinsta” – a real Instagram account – and a “finsta”: a fake or second account.
The rise of the finsta (sometimes referred to as “privates” by teens) began in 2017 when for the first time, Instagram allowed users to create and switch between multiple accounts. Unlike other social media platforms such as Facebook, which states “it’s against Facebook Community Standards to maintain more than one personal account”, Instagram has embraced multiple accounts. Since that time teens have also embraced them, with ownership of numerous “alternate” accounts now common for this age group.
Teens do not typically set up a finsta in their own name, but instead use a fake name or the name of an entity such as their favourite character. The idea is that the accounts cannot be traced back to them.
3 ways teens use finstas
Adults may be inclined to assume that finstas are created by teens to hide scandalous and/or overtly sexual behaviour. However, that’s not necessarily the case. Growing up in the social media era, members of this age group are acutely aware of the pressures on them to create and maintain the picture-perfect online profile. Finstas are often strategically used by teens to relieve this pressure.
Private, less visible accounts allow teens the opportunity to move away from the carefully cultivated, public persona on their real Instagram account – and present a rawer, “this-is-the-real-me” personality to a smaller group of closer friends.
The friends that teens select for each of their finsta accounts depends on the type of content they want to post on there.
There are at least three reasons why teens create finsta accounts:
1. For their real friends
Teens commonly create finstas as a space to show their silly or more vulnerable side with close friends, without being judged by others. It is not uncommon for teens to have thousands of Instagram followers (many of whom they don’t know personally), and the potential for criticism on such accounts is rife.
A finsta account however may have less than 30 of their close friends. In my own study of teen use of social media, 17-year-old Tommy stated he used his finsta account to post funny pictures just for his friends. He said he would never post those pictures on his real Instagram because he wouldn’t want everyone to see how goofy he can be.
2. To enjoy private interests
Some teens use finsta accounts to privately enjoy interests they feel others may judge them by, or bully them about. For example, a teen boy may be an avid fan of a TV series that primarily has a female fan base. The teen may use his finsta account to share his interest with like-minded fans, he may even set it up to give the impression that it is a girl’s account. With this purpose, teens can feel free to enjoy their interest, or try new ones, without being worried that someone will mock them.
3. To boost their own popularity
Teens may also use finstas as a way of boosting their real Instagram accounts, for example using them to likes posts or add flattering comments, as is seen with YouTube activity.
Implications of a finsta for teens
A benefit of finstas is that they allow the focus of teen’s social media use to shift in a positive way. They can move away from posting perfect photos, and garnering high likes and quick compliments, to a focus on presenting themselves and their ideas in a less edited and more authentic way.
On the flipside, however, these accounts usually engage with a closed circle of friends, so inappropriate content – such as sexual or highly intimate remarks and posts – can (and does) get posted.
Semi-anonymous and closed-platform posts also bring the potential for bullying, sexting, revenge posting, illegal activity and amplified drama that can easily spill over from finsta into other social media accounts and real life.
Private isn’t protected
Conversations with teens about social media are always important and should be a regular part of digital life.
As finstas are generally set to private mode, teens may feel protected – that what they post is private. However, it’s important to remember that the same rules apply to finstas as to all social media: there is no way to monitor who physically sees a post.
A private setting does not protect you from a screenshot being taken of the post and distributed – nor does it stop someone who you’re not “friends” with physically looking at content on your account, perhaps on another person’s phone.
Additionally, you are always trackable online somehow. Even if you are using an alternate username, a screenshot of the post may still be tied to your name in a Google search result.
Whether real or fake accounts, the message to teens about social media should consistently focus on always being in control of your own reputation, sharing things online that reflect the real you, and thinking of the long-term implications of posts Real or fake accounts – the rules stay the same.
For Victorians, kids will be online learning for the foreseeable future. For the rest of Australia, schools could go back online at any time, so we need to be ready. This US-based article has some excellent tips for keeping kids motivated and engaged while online learning. A reminder that this kind of schooling suits some kids more than others, but is definitely challenging for every kid. We chose the feature image especially to highlight just how isolating online learning can be for kids. A very lonely kind of classroom.
When nearly all US brick-and-mortar schools suddenly closed in March 2020 and went online, large numbers of students simply didn’t log into class. Even if they did show up, many more weren’t paying much attention or doing their schoolwork. Is there anything that teachers and families can do to curb these problems with remote learning due to COVID-19?
The importance of the relationships that develop in classrooms is often taken for granted. With online learning, students and teachers can no longer greet each other with high-fives and fist bumps or develop a sense of connection through direct eye contact. Their interactions are now restricted, and in a growing number of communities they are limited to communications through computers.
Teleconferencing software like Zoom can mimic face-to-face conversations and lessons. An array of digital tools can improve the quality of these sometimes awkward interactions. Some are text-based, delivered either live or pre-recorded.
Pictures, audio clips, videos, emojis and GIFs help people get their points across more clearly and colorfully. Rather than seeing them as frivolous, we recommend that families and teachers not be afraid to encourage students to use those tools to build and strengthen social relationships with their peers and their teachers.
Students will also benefit when schools create opportunities to spend non-instructional time with other students online because it makes it easier to forge personal connections. To be sure, schools also need to set and enforce clear “netiquette” – online manners – to discourage digital bullying and support a positive culture. This is especially true when a new semester gets underway.
Technology can help. For example, videos and other online resources can instantly show students how a particular topic might be essential for certain careers. And we recommend that teachers tell students to briefly interview relatives and friends, whether by using Zoom, email or the phone, about why a particular topic that they are learning might be relevant to their own lives.
Students benefit from routines at school, because routines help them to organise and use their time efficiently throughout the school day. These can include short breaks between classes when they can interact with their peers and take a mental break before they begin their next class. Online learning, even with some daily instruction happening in real time, is more self-paced and self-managed. Kids will benefit from a new daily routine that suits their virtual school schedule and their family’s needs. Students are likely to be more engaged with online learning if they are expected to get ready for the day by acting as though they were actually going to their school building, and not just roll out of bed and turn on the computer.
Students quite often don’t know how to effectively set reasonable goals, manage their time, take notes, study for tests, ask for help in constructive ways or plan and carry out research projects.
For example, while a student is watching an online instructional video, we recommend that parents and other guardians from time to time get them to briefly pause the clip. Try asking “Do you understand what you’ve seen so far?” If not, suggest that they start it over. Offer to help them puzzle through what’s being taught. If that doesn’t help, assist with scheduling a personal meeting with their teacher.Eric M. Anderman, Professor of Educational Psychology and Quantitative Research, Evaluation, and Measurement, The Ohio State University and Kui Xie, Cyphert Distinguished Professor of Learning Technologies; Director of The Research Laboratory for Digital Learning, The Ohio State University
More than 60% of Victorian young adults live with their parents, followed by 56% in New South Wales and about 53% in the other four states. In Queensland, the proportion of young adults living at home rose from 31% in 2001 to 52% in 2017. And the researchers suggest that the way we parent our kids has a role in explaining the stats…
The HILDA Survey tells the story of the same group of Australians over the course of their lives. Starting in 2001, the survey now tracks more than 17,500 people in 9,500 households.
In 2017, 56% of men aged 18 to 29 lived with one or both parents, up from 47% in 2001. More strikingly, over the same period, the proportion of women aged 18 to 29 living with their parents rose from 36% to 54%.
Growth has been particularly strong among women in their early to mid 20s. For example, in 2001, 30% of women aged 22 to 25 were living in the parental home, while in 2017, 58% were doing so. In other words, the gap between young women and young men is shrinking.
Traditionally, women have partnered and had children at younger ages than men. That’s linked to the fact that women are more likely, on average, to leave the parental home at a younger age than men.
The tendency for women to marry and have children at younger ages still exists, but it no longer translates to a greater propensity of young adult women to be living apart from their parents.
So what’s the average age that young people move out? It’s complicated. In our report, we did consider the average age of moving out – but looking at it this way means you’re only considering young adults who have already moved out. For women, this was 22.1 in 2001 and 24.2 in 2017. For men, it was 23.1 in 2001 and 23.5 in 2017.
But this doesn’t accurately convey the magnitude of change. A growing proportion of young adults have not moved out at all. Consequently, the average age of moving out is considerably higher and has grown more than these numbers suggest.
So what’s the average age that young people move out? For women, this was 22.1 in 2001 and 24.2 in 2017. For men, it was 23.1 in 2001 and 23.5 in 2017.
Housing costs, casual work, marriage delayed
A number of mutually reinforcing economic and social factors are likely to be driving the overall trend towards staying in the parental home longer.
Of course, the cost of housing is a big factor, and it’s been rising faster than inflation and incomes.
It appears harder these days for young people to find full-time permanent employment opportunities. In particular, casual employment has risen for young adult men and women since around 2009; by comparison, it has only increased slightly for older men and has actually declined for older women.
There has also been growth in education participation of young adults, especially among those aged 25 and under. Interestingly, however, among those aged 18-21, the proportion of those living with their parents engaged in full-time education has fallen in recent years. This may reflect the growing importance of housing costs and the labour market in keeping young adults at home. The growth in education participation appears to have mainly been a factor up until 2011.
Changes in the preferences of young adults may also be a factor. It is possible that our longer life expectancy is increasing the desire to “live a little” before taking on the challenges and responsibilities traditionally associated with adulthood.
But one thing is clear: it could not happen without the capacity and willingness of parents to accommodate their adult children.
Certainly, young adults seem to be in less of a hurry to settle down and have children. For example, the median age at marriage has risen by 1.5 years since the turn of the century for both men and women; similarly, the average age of mothers at first birth has been creeping upwards and is now around 29.
It is difficult to ascertain the relative importance of changing economic realities facing young adults versus changes in their preferences.
But one thing is clear: it could not happen without the capacity and willingness of parents to accommodate their adult children. So perhaps, ultimately, we should be looking to their parents for an explanation of this trend.
It occurred to me that so many of the books we recommend here are not Australian books. They are generally the popular ‘best seller’ books that parents are keen to get a review on. So, I went searching for some Australian books for teens to recommend and found this excellent round-up on The Conversation. As well as suggesting them to my teens, I plan to read each of these five books myself.
What we read matters. Reading shapes the way we see the world, increases our understanding of others, and helps us imagine different narratives for ourselves.
Alfred Tatum, a US education professor specialising in literacy for African American boys, coined the term “bookprint”. He said it’s something we all have – a list of books that have impacted how we see ourselves and the world.
School holidays are an ideal time for teenagers to expand their reading repertoire and pay attention to the bookprint they are creating (and is being created for them). It is important for young people to read literature that reflects their own life and also expands their experiences of the world.
In this spirit, we suggest five Australian books for teens that connect with diverse experiences and interests. This is not a quintessential list, but one designed to enhance any young person’s bookprint, at different ages and stages. These texts are by Australian writers, and written in the past five years.
In Terra Nullius, Clare G. Coleman offers older teenagers the opportunity to immerse themselves in an imaginative response to colonisation.
Coleman’s creative representation holds both history and potential futures in tension, and an unexpected plot twist engages and provokes the imagination.
This book is an example of both climate fiction and speculative fiction. Climate fiction enables older teenagers to think about the implications of climate change from diverse perspectives, while speculative fiction encourages readers to use their imaginations to consider different futures or pasts.
The Tribe, by Arab-Australian writer, editor, teacher and community arts worker Michael Mohammed Ahmad, is short but powerful. It focuses on the experiences of Bani, an Arab-Australian boy, his family and their wider community.
The Tribe was Ahmed’s first work of fiction. It insightfully considers issues of identity, family, community, loyalty and love.
The text makes clear both the struggle and beauty at the heart of one immigrant family’s experiences of being Australian. The book is richly descriptive, and the reader is carried into the home that is the centre of Bani’s world.
Growing Up African draws from a range of authors including disability advocate Carly Findlay, journalist and filmmaker Santilla Chingaipe, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child star Kirsty Marillier, and many more.
Like the others in the Growing Up series, this compilation acts as an intersection at which we can reflect on the similarities and differences of young people growing up across the country.
One section of the anthology, named “The Body”, is particularly noteworthy, with a range of authors describing their experiences grappling with body difference and self esteem.
For some young readers this will provide a moment of “I thought it was just me”. It might help others to see cultural beauty standards – and the challenges of growing up within them – through another’s point of view.
Like the Growing Up series, this new collection offers much-needed new voices and perspectives for young adult readers.
Conceived as a collection of stories about marginalised people, told by people from these marginalised groups, Meet Me at the Intersection presents stories, poems, and memoirs from First Nations writers, writers living with a disability, LGBTIQA+ writers and writers from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Including a range of established and emerging writers, this collection reminds us identities are complex, created at the intersections of race, disability and sexuality, and that we are collectively a richer nation if all voices can be heard.
Historically underrepresented people including Aboriginal writers, writers of colour, migrant writers, queers writers and writers living with disability are particularly underrepresented.
Yet, we know it is of paramount importance Australian teenagers are able to locate their literary imaginations locally as well as globally, and that reading texts by and about diverse Australians will change the ways all young people see themselves and their communities.
For a longer list of Australian texts both historical and contemporary, see the Reading Australia website. This resource is designed for teachers, but is also a great starting place for parents and teenagers.
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