Advice

What Teenagers Really Worry About. HINT: It’s Not Screen Time

Social media use and teenage screen time can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, they provide social connections and a way to unwind. Yet on the other, both can lead to harmful and dangerous outcomes.

Not surprisingly, more than half of Australian parents of teens say social media use is their top concern.

Why are parents worried about their teenager’s screen time?

Many parents love how their teenagers can find like-minded people, form friendships worldwide, and learn new skills on social media. But most parents think their kids spend far too much time on screens and worry about unsafe people taking advantage of them, or worse.

Many parents also worry about the social pressure teenagers face in today’s society to look, dress, and act in certain ways based on what they see on their social media feeds.

Teens have worries, and they don’t include screens

According to recent research by online youth support service ReachOut, although parents are worried about their teenager’s screen time and social media use, teens have other concerns.

Almost half of teens worry about study stress. The pressure for teenagers to ‘get good grades’ and plan their future is top of the list.

Sadly, even our teens are worried about the cost-of-living crisis and have financial worries. Financial worries weren’t even in the top five of things stressing our teens two years ago. But with rising costs, they have to work more to cover petrol and food.

Rights of passage, like moving into their own places, are looking like a pipe dream for many. Unsurprisingly, this is leading more and more teens to experience feelings of depression and anxiety and need to seek help for their mental health.

Another concern for teens, mainly female teens, is their body image. Things haven’t changed much on this front since we were teens, but this unease is increasing with the rise of influencers and their carefully curated images.

All of this, combined with families living more separate lives after the pandemic, has teens feeling lonely, and their mental health and well-being are being impacted. As a result, we’re seeing poor concentration, disturbed sleep patterns, and fluctuating moods in many of our teens today.

Despite parental concerns, teen social media use is not all bad

Teens are using social media to find support and community. It’s a safe haven for some teens in homes where there is a family conflict or in homes where teens feel unsafe or unwelcome.

It can also teach them valuable life-saving skills. Do you remember when the hand gesture to signal trouble (flat palm, thumb in the middle and close fingers) went viral? It was instrumental in saving an abducted teen in 2021 and has helped countless silent victims escape violence.

Teens use social media to unwind and relax after work or school, and also to brighten their mood. And who wouldn’t feel brighter after watching a funny pet compilation video?

teen screen time and social media use fun
Screen time can help teens unwind. Source: Bigstock

Why is there such a difference between teen and parent worries?

Mainly because they are different generations. I remember when I was a teenager. I thought I was invincible and that my caregivers didn’t understand me. I’ve also raised teens. I stopped knowing anything simply because I was their mother, and their teenage brain knew more. At least, according to them.

As the older generation, our worries come from a ‘been there, done that’ perspective. Yet young people are facing the beginning of their adult life, with pressures and expectations put on them by society and the stigma they get from older generations.

Is there a middle ground?

Absolutely. My kids were young when social media was born. They grew up in an era when child predators and revenge porn were the biggest concerns for parents around social media. Deciding to be proactive, I made up a list of rules for my kids concerning social media:

  1. They were not allowed to change their password until they were 16. I didn’t invade their privacy, but knowing I had access meant they were more careful about what they posted.
  2. They were given many talks about the dangers of sharing certain pictures and how they are online forever, no matter how hard they try to delete them.
  3. They were given many talks about how to make sure someone is who they say they are (this was before reverse image searches) and how they shouldn’t share any revealing details about themselves or where they lived.

I spent many afternoons checking in with them about school bullies and used that same mindset for online bullies. My methods weren’t perfect. I was a 24-year-old mum with a five-year-old and a two-and-a-half-year-old when Facebook launched.

Online safety was a learning curve for me and my kids when they were responsible enough to have social media. But they are now young adults (my youngest is 17) and are still careful when using social media. I still have to diffuse a bullying situation occasionally, but I trust them to navigate it with the skills I taught them. I have seen the mood boost they get and the way it has inspired them to be themselves.

teen screen time and social media use with parent
Taking with your teen can help alleviate worries. Source: Bigstock

Communication is your backbone

It’s easy to let teenagers stay in their rooms and ignore you. We don’t think on the same wavelength and must parent to the best of our life experiences.

Yet, communication is vital for burgeoning young adults. They might not always want to engage with you; you’re their parent, after all. But as long as they know you are there for them, if they ever need you, they will come to you.

It’s okay to have hard conversations with your teens. They won’t like everything you have to say and vice versa. If and when your young people decide to clue you in, it’s essential that you don’t judge.

Do they need us to listen? Do they need us to advise? Or do they need us to advocate? Recognising which one to use at which times will strengthen your relationship.

Understanding how teens think and react seems like an uphill battle. But if you talk to them like the almost adults they are, you’ll both find your way through it.


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Avatar of Tina Evans

Tina Evans is a complete introvert, an avid reader of romance novels, horror novels and psychological thrillers. She’s a writer, movie viewer, and manager of the house menagerie: three kelpies, one cat, a fish, and a snake. She loves baking and cooking and using her kids as guinea pigs. She was a teenage parent and has learned a lot in twenty-three years of parenting. Tina loves Christmas and would love to experience a white Christmas once in her life. Aside from writing romance novels, she is passionate about feminism, equality, sci-fi, action movies and doing her part to help the planet.

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