Talking to Teenagers: Setting Safe Digital Boundaries

The term ‘teenager’ has become synonymous with the image of groups of semi-adults hunched over mobile devices for hours at a time – and rightly so. According to some (frankly, pretty scary) stats from Safe Search Kids, 77 percent of teens (12 – 17), and 56 percent of tweens (8 – 12) own a cell phone. Further research shows us that the average age for kids to get their first smartphone is 11, and teenagers spend around six hours a day on these devices.

This mobile-first generation has been born into a world of instant information, access to whoever they choose, and a golden circle ticket to an entire global community…with all that entails.

They have also become the hottest market, and the target of some of the biggest brands due to their purchasing influence, available cash, and innate knowledge of the tech landscape.

However, many teenagers are still just children in the awkward body of a grown-up and need plenty of guidance and boundaries when it comes to the use of their mobile phone. How can we as parents and responsible businesses assist with keeping our teens and tweens safe in a world driven by consumerism? What conversations should we be having when it comes to how they use their phones and who they interact with?

Teenagers are The Hottest New Target Market

“Marketers are devoting more time and money to reaching the youth market than ever before, and they’re targeting younger and younger kids with ads for an ever-increasing portfolio of products—cars, vacation destinations, financial services products, as well as the traditional candies and games and movies.

“The bombardment of commercial messages is turning teens and into the most sophisticated and skeptical consumers in the world, resistant to conventional advertising.”

This comment from an article in Holmes Report which delves deep into the ethical issues surrounding marketing to teenagers. It says further, “In a 2003 survey, RoperASW found agreement among children and their parents that tweens are influencing more and more purchasing decisions. More than four out of five parents (84 percent) and almost as many kids (78 percent) say 8-17-year-olds have some influence over food purchases. More than two-thirds say kids have influence over DVD and music purchases. But kids also have influence over which cable or satellite TV service their parents choose, consumer electronics, and even, in about one out of every four households, over home décor.

“Purchasing clout among today’s kids has expanded beyond the traditional borders of snack food and video games,” says Ed Keller, CEO of RoperASW. “We are beginning to see children as young as eight having an impact on new, more sophisticated areas like home design.”

Knowing that you’re up against billion-dollar budgets and the marketing genius of the world of Big Business will likely throw up more than a few red flags for parents. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that the Camel Man was revered, and parents were encouraged to start their babies off on a diet of Coca-Cola. Our teenagers are a captive audience and their mobile phones are the gateway for smart marketers.

Not everything that your child sees or is exposed to on their phone will be detrimental, of course! Movies, games, toys, clothes and music are all promoted through this channel, and some of it is awesome. We do, however, need to teach our teenagers that:

  • Not everything a “trusted” company says is truthful or beneficial
  • There are many (many!) scams out there which are out to get your money in any way they can.
  • You don’t need everything that is advertised to you

Perhaps show teens how to assess a website or advert on their mobile to look for warning signs for possible issues. This way they can still enjoy exciting messages from local businesses looking to promote fun holiday activities or other events which they can get involved with.

Privacy and Safety Boundaries for Teenagers on Mobile

Business and marketing aside, there are other online elements which we need to protect our teens from.

The Internet can be a fascinating place full of useful information and funny cat videos. However, it’s also has a dark underbelly which we know all too well. Stranger danger is a very real thing online where anyone can gain access to our child and spend weeks or months gaining their trust. Photo sharing and social media can be a lot of fun, but it can also go very wrong at 1 am with the wrong person on the other end.

What can we as parents do to keep our adolescents safe?

Parental Control Apps

There are several apps that parents can make use of to assist teens in setting digital boundaries and learning how to manage their time and phone use responsibly.

Digital Trends has devoted an entire article to this which makes for good reading. On the top of the list is FamilyTime; “FamilyTime does a lot of everything, allowing you to customize your control options for the precise content or behaviors you want to prevent. The software gives you tools to set homework and bedtimes, or merely limit the time that your kids spend on their phones. Then it adds options for geofencing (you get alerts when that phone enters or leaves a specific area) and tracking. On top of that, you can block or control on an app-by-app basis, monitor texts, and keep an eye on contact lists.”

Have “The Conversation”

If we don’t tell them, then they won’t know. Some parents have written down a code of conduct of sorts detailing what is considered acceptable phone use and what is not. Highlighting not only the dangers but also the moral and ethical responsibility they now have to be kind, thoughtful, moderate and appropriate online, as they would be in person.

Agree on Access

As a parent, you have a right (and a duty) to know what your child’s online activities. Know their password and let them know that you will check their phones regularly – for their own protection.

Mobile Phones are Still A Great Way to Talk to Teens

All the scary stuff aside, if your teenager has a smartphone then they will also have a lot of fun at their fingertips.

They have the opportunity to learn something new and fascinating every day, to meet exciting new people and to interact with their friends in enjoyable ways.

Businesses which adhere to high ethical and moral standards have a wonderfully interactive channel of teaching, growing and entertaining these young minds via SMS, video, WhatsApp or in-app adverts.

Indeed, carefully training your teenagers in the wonderful world of mobile gives them the tools that they will need to stay safe online.

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