Teenagers and Technology

“We had to take away the Xbox again last night,” a friend lamented to me. She had caught her son in the wee hours of the morning, plugged in with his headset on, chatting with friends across the country as he maimed opponents in his latest game. It wasn’t the first time, and she was aware that it wouldn’t be the last. And short of taking the game system and throwing it in the Russian River, she wasn’t sure what to do.

Like many teens, her son had been spending way too much time in his room lately. After homework, he would lock himself in his room and plug into the Xbox 360, playing until it was time for bed that night. Weekends were the same story. Except on these days he spent the whole day playing. He stopped spending evenings with his parents catching up on CSI or Fringe like he used to. He hadn’t been reading for fun, even though he used to be a big reader. And he hadn’t socialized with his friends in months.

Actually, I take that back. He had been socializing with his friends the whole time. But instead of going to their houses and hanging out, they were hanging out virtually, blowing each other up as they played the same games and talked smack through a headset.

This has become the norm for the society. The past decade has shown a steady rise in online activity and electronic game use. The fault lies behind the upgrades that have happened rapidly for both. Phones now plug into the internet with a tap of a key, making Facebook and other social networks the preferred way to keep up with friends. In a moment’s notice you can find out what your friends are up to, random trivia such as Prince Charles surname (true story), or the price of the next iPod you plan on purchasing – which you can also do by phone.

As for game systems, they keep coming out with a better model each year. When I was a kid, Atari was the craze. We could shoot little missiles into centipedes, shortening them before they got to us and annihilated us. It was very state of the art. Then came the Nintendo, and Mario and Luigi became the spokespersons of the 90’s. Times changed, and Nintendos became Game Cubes and then Wiis. Playstations made way for Playstation 2 and 3. And the simplistic Xbox became the Xbox 360. The game stations of today allow you to network with people all over the world, and the graphics have become so realistic that you have to shield the eyes of any wee ones who happen to be witnessing the carnage.

While the violence depicted in today’s games is definitely a cause for concern, another aspect of life that is being lost is the capability to socialize. The formative years for learning how to interact with others and develop interests outside of school and work are doomed to be lost as teenagers choose online socializing over hanging out at each other’s homes and places of interest. Parents, myself included, are guilty of letting the TV and internet occupy their child in the interest of getting things done around the house or even just having a few moments of downtime. I’ve even witnessed a couple with their young son enjoying a quiet meal out at a restaurant while their child was entertained by a portable DVD player showing episodes of Spongebob. Kids aren’t even able to endure a 20 minute car ride without being plugged into the car’s movie screen.

There is hope in society. An article that posted today in the New York Times told of teenagers who have sworn off Facebook for long periods of time so that it didn’t interfere with their quality of schoolwork or social lives. SSU students rose to the challenge of giving up TV and internet for one week, and realized how distracting the media can be to life. And my friend’s son? He told his mom the story of how one of his friends sold his Xbox so that he could get his girlfriend a really nice present for Christmas. But don’t count on my friend’s son doing that anytime soon.

“That’s crazy!” he told his mom. “I’d never do that!”

Give him a year or two and a really cute girl that has stolen his heart……

iPhones, Xboxes, personal computers, cable television that knows of no bedtimes…
A teen could be deemed a social pariah if they simulated living in a cave and distanced themselves from all forms of technology in favor of the simple ways of life. And with all the technology that is available, it almost seems impossible to live that way. So where’s the happy medium? Without throwing an expensive piece of equipment out the window, what can a mom do to appease her son’s need for technology while still encouraging non-electronic forms of entertainment? How can she keep him from sneaking out of his room at night to play, even when she has locked the game system away from the stealthy ninja teenager in her room? And is there anything out there that would capture a teen’s interest the way the internet and game systems have?

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9 thoughts on “Teenagers and Technology”

  1. I’m 30 years old and have been a video gamer all my life. I disagree with your opinion about video games. I believe anyone can have time to play games & interact socially. In my youth I played all sports at a high level. I also had a huge group of friends that I spent time with. I did run late to a few dates because of games. Now I’m married with 3 kids. I still have time to play games every night. I tease my wife by saying I could be going to bars. The key is proportions. Too much of anything is not good. I give my kids a window to play and if they miss it. My response is there is always tomorrow. As far as technology I think it is great to have TV in the car. I wish I had it when I was young now I drive listening to my kids movies. The one thing I worry about is getting arthritis and not being able to play when I’m in my 80’s. My genaration will take gaming to our graves. Also the Nintendo Wii is at every senior center because it stimulates the mind.

  2. I think that previous poster Jeremy was on target with his comment about proportions — being eternally “plugged in” isn’t healthy, especially for developing teens and adolescents who should spend time in fresh air and interact with peers IRL as well as online…but tech isn’t the enemy, either.

    It is, as with pretty much anything in life, about moderation. A child who plays sports all day and doesn’t want to do anything else may be very physically healthy and have good interpersonal relationships, but their academic life would likely suffer…and a child who locked him- or her-self in their room all day and studied would likely be far ahead of his or her peers, grade-wise, but this child would still certainly worry parents who realized that their child’s physical and social needs were being ignored.

    People all too often gripe about the modern world and how we are “chained” to our technology…cell phones we take everywhere, the internet constantly tempting us to log in to our favorite sites…but I don’t feel that a metaphor of imprisonment is accurate.

    -Now, if we are awaiting an important phone call, we can still go just about wherever we want to and still receive it…if we get in trouble, there is help just a speed dial away, even if we are on an abandoned road with a condemned sanitarium perched on the crest of the nearby hill.

    -Now, if we desire information (say, for example, Prince Charles’ surname or what exactly the Reign of Terror was), it is at our fingertips…but before the internet, we would most likely ponder our curiosity for a few moments and then realize that in order to find the answer the effort involved (a trip to the library, a search through a card catalog, dragging out some book printed irrelevantly long ago and wading through dry text in search of the information we sought) would really prove prohibitive for such a random fancy.

    -Now, we are kept up to speed on the day-to-day lives of friends we haven’t seen since grade-school, where in decades past we would have paused for a moment in our lives and thought, ‘Hmm…I wonder what ever happened to that girl who was my best friend for years but moved out of town when I was 11.’ Now we stay connected and reconnect with people that are important to us, rather than just telling ourselves that we really should get in touch with our old college roommate.

    -Now, we are part of the WORLD-WIDE web. I, for one, am part of at least two online communities that are full of people from all over the world. All too often, I don’t even know the GENDER of a person I am trading thoughts with, much less their nationality. They are just another person with interests similar to my own. For years people have been begging for color-blindness, for people to accept each other for who they are rather than what external landmarks they display…the internet delivers that, and as new generations are growing up in an internet-heavy world, they will take that with them in their non-virtual lives.

    -As for video games…yes, they are addictive, but they also are interactive, and foster great hand-eye coordination, problem-solving skills and yes, even socialization when playing something of the MMO variety. Not only that, but with every new development they are becoming further works of art and amazement.

    I didn’t mean to get up on a soap box or to post a comment of anything near this length, but I find this is a subject of some passion for me. I also am certainly not trying to say you are wrong, or that parents should give their children free rein to spend all day in virtual worlds. As I said, and as Jeremy said…proportion, moderation and balance are the important factors–finding time for work and for play, for getting fresh air and for staying in. When I was growing up, my friends’ parents used to wish their own children read as avidly as I did…but that was about all I did. I have always had trouble with peer interaction, and never been very athletic, and I spent most of my free time alone, wrapped in some world of fantasy. I think pretty much everyone would agree that reading is good…but so is playing outside and working on those pesky social skills.

    What I’m really trying to say in my usual, long-winded way, is that people should stop painting technology as the enemy that is destroying our lives. Yes, it has negatives and can be used for dark purposes…and more commonly, simply irresponsible ones, just like The Force, just like fire, just like…oh, I don’t know…knowledge, language, intelligence! Spending all day playing Call of Duty, WoW or Farmville rather than doing stuff that needs to get done is unproductive, but if I recall, we found ways to waste time BEFORE technology…by, like…drawing on our jeans with sharpies.

  3. Just want to remind you guys that I am not condemning technology. Heck, I’m online a good portion of my day for my job. I love the internet. And I think it holds a lot of positive aspects for kids. And video games are just one of those interests that kids (and grown-ups too) have, just like some people take up scrapbooking or running. But when it is getting in the way of his sleep, taking over ALL of his free time, and when he is being so sneaky about it like it’s a drug? That’s when it’s a problem. Just recently a mom called 911 on her teenage son when he refused to put the games away and just go to bed. While her reaction was incredibly extreme, I can only understand her frustration all too well as the mom of my own little videogame junkie.

  4. Sorry about that…I just hear technology condemned so often without trial, so many people who talk about how it takes up all our time and sucks our lives away and just makes life harder than it was when we all farmed from dawn ’till dusk, that I have a bit of a Pavlovian tendency to jump instantly to its defense. And you are absolutely right…when it becomes an obsession it becomes a problem…as an ex girlfriend of a gamer who learned what ‘just lemme finish this level’ really means and having had a good female friend regularly beg off of social engagements for raids in WoW, I totally get the whole ‘sometimes you just have to turn off the computer’ vibe.

  5. I think taking away an Xbox is completely appropriate. A kid under 16 should understand that the parents have rules for his or her own benefit. That includes things like bedtime, limits on TV or game time, and guidelines for daily routines for home and school. Staying up all night playing XBox should be a once-or-twice a year thing – reserved for a sleepover on a birthday or something like that. So when the game is allowed to appear again in your house, make sure to make the kids agree that it will only be there for them when it is used appropriately.
    Once a kid is over 16, it seems to work better to let them find out their own consequences. So if an older kid stays up all night and then falls asleep in school the next day (I’ve seen this more than once!) it would probably just be better to let them fail their quiz or whatever, and then just point out the consequence. Really, staying up all night playing games is the least of the problems I see in my classrooms – it’s the ones who have been staying up putting cocaine in their brains that are a real pain. (They are so dang CRANKY the next day and somehow they think nobody notices!)

  6. I agree that video games have begun to take up teenagers time more and more lately, but I also disagree with saying that playing games takes away from there ability to socialize. I say this from personal experience myself being a teenager, I agree that I play more than I should but I am also one of the more social people out of my family.

  7. Encourage him to do a sport called Parkour, or otherwise know (even though are different) freerunning. i used to be obsessed with computers now im almost always out trainin parkour, and alot of other kids my age do it aswell

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