The youth of today face unprecedented territory in terms of growing up as the first genuinely digital generation. This is a generation for which we have no basis for comparison. Never before has staying in touch with people, finding new information and sending and receiving media been so convenient, and while this is a huge step forward in terms of technological advancement, it has already had derogatory effects on certain aspects of people’s lives. It is particularly difficult for children to navigate and, as it is very much a new phenomenon on a constantly changing landscape, it makes it increasingly difficult for parents to control and monitor.
Texting has been around for some time now and has been embraced by every generation from all walks of life. It is the preferred method of communication world-wide among adults and children alike and offers a quick and convenient way of staying in touch with many different people at one time, while also making the distribution of photos and videos easier than ever before.
Texting has however, spawned a new problem unimagined by generations before. Today it is extremely common for young people to communicate more via text than face to face. This can have a dramatic effect on the development of young people’s social skills and their ability to communicate face to face and build close, meaningful relationships.
It’s not just texting that is causing parents and caregivers to worry, but also the relatively new concept of ‘sexting’. Sexting is the ‘sending, receiving, or forwarding on [of] sexually explicit messages and images via the Internet or a mobile phone.’ Most often, sexting falls into a handful of categories:
- “Sexually suggestive photos or videos.”
- “Photos or videos wearing lingerie.”
- “Nude photos or videos.”
- “Sexually suggestive text messages.”
- “Text messages propositioning sex.”
- “Forwarding on or showing other sexts which were meant to be kept private.”
Whilst sexting is predominantly carried out by people in relationships and originally sent to the intended recipient, often these personal messages, pictures or videos will be sent on to third parties and then distributed even further. This is a huge issue among young people who may send an image without considering the possible consequences of distributing images which were not intended to be seen by a wider audience. The level of embarrassment and even harassment that can come from these incidents can have an extremely detrimental impact on a teenager’s self-esteem and has already drastically changed some people’s lives. Some extreme cases have even been cited as a primary reason for some people taking their own life.
It is worth noting that sexting is seen by some as positive, especially among young adults.
As with most things, it is important that parents and children alike are educated on the topic of sexting, and that there is an open dialogue in schools and at home, to ensure children feel comfortable addressing any issues before allowing them to develop and cause harm.
Finally, we should discuss the idea that today cell phone use is turning into something akin to addiction. Young people send and receive an average of 167 texts per day, with the median number of daily texts rising from 50 to 60 since 2009.’ These figures show that a large percentage of young people now display extremely compulsive behaviors when it comes to phone usage. Often they will exhibit signs shown by the likes of compulsive gamblers, texting through the night, being unable to cut back and even lying about how much they use their phones. Some children have reported feeling anxious and uneasy if they do not have their phone on them, and unconsciously check the screen every few minutes to see if they have messages.
Young people’s dependency on a cell phone as the main means of communication can drastically affect lives and academic performance whilst also stunting growth of personal skills. It is therefore very important that parents are aware of these issues and are able to identify them in their own children. Quite often imposing phone-free time or having an open dialogue with your children about the dangers of a phone becoming an obsession can help dramatically.
- Scholes-Balog, K., Francke, N., & Hemphill, S. (2016). Relationships Between Sexting, Self-Esteem, and Sensation Seeking Among Australian Young Adults. Sage Journals.
Lenhart, A. (2012, March). Teens, smartphones & texting. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved December 27, 2014, from http://www.pewinternet.org/files/old-media/Files/Reports/2012/PIP_Teens_Smartphones _and_Texting.pdf as discussed in Lister-Landman, Kelly M. et al. “The Role of Compulsive Texting in Adolescents’ Academic Functioning.” Psychology of Popular Media Culture 6 (2017): 311–325.