Teens and Technology: Truth or Consequences!

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By Tracey Matthews, Supervisor of the Knox County Schools Family and Community Engagement Department and Tamekia Jackson, Director of the Knox County Schools Family Resource Center Contributing Writer: Eliza Norrell, Family and Community Engagement Department Communications Intern         

It’s no secret that many of us are hooked on technology whether it’s our cell phone, tablet, laptop, or video game console. Teenagers are no exception to our media-obsessed culture. According to a 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, today’s teens spend more than 7.5 hours a day using technology devices to watch TV, connect with friends on social media, play video games, or listen to music. The amount of time teens are looking at screens has both advantages and disadvantages. Read on to learn facts about teenage technology usage that all parents should consider.

Smartphones Used “Smartly”

Truth: Knowing that your child has a smartphone can be a huge comfort when they get into crisis situations. For example, if your son’s car breaks down, his smartphone will enable him to look up the number of a mechanic or even tell him how to perform minor car repairs like how to change a tire. A smartphone’s GPS will prevent teens from getting lost in an unknown part of town. Thus, technology can be a major problem-solving tool for teens.

Consequences: Because smartphones are so “smart,” teens often do not memorize their parents’ or emergency phone numbers or other important information.

Lesson: Be careful when deciding to take away your teen’s cell phone as a consequence for misuse or other misbehavior.

YouTube and Other Online “Classrooms”

Truth: Teens can use technology to learn skills that might otherwise be unavailable to them. For example, by viewing specific YouTube tutorials, teens can learn the basics from how to solve a complex math problem to an introduction to playing a musical instrument! Pinterest even teaches teens how to prepare simple meals. Through Kindle’s downloadable app, your teen can have access to thousands of books. Pieces of classic literature often cost less than a dollar to download, and some are FREE! Along the same lines, Netflix offers a variety of documentaries. This ability to allow self-teaching can make the Internet a powerful educational tool for teens.

Consequences: Posts on YouTube, Wikipedia and many other sites are not monitored for accuracy. Also, while the Internet can provide valuable educational time for your teen, it also can provide inappropriate material.

Lesson: Most social media sites should be used as a starting point for learning about a new subject, NOT as official sources, particularly to cite in a bibliography. Parents should monitor what their teens view on the Internet, and ask their child’s teacher for recommendations on tutorials to use outside of classroom time.

More Consequences:

All that screen time leaves little room for exercise. If your teen is at school from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and then spends several hours outside of school surfing the net and/or watching television, there is not much time left for physical activity. Also, the Internet and TV can encourage unhealthy eating habits by exposing your child to endless advertisements for fast food. If your teen is logging several hours a day using electronic devices, he or she is cutting into time that could otherwise be spent developing physical fitness and healthy habits.

Social media can lead teens to over-share. Teens do not always use websites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter responsibly. This can leave teens vulnerable to Internet predators. Even the wisest teen might post personal information or inappropriate images to “fit in” with friends who are engaging in this behavior. Even if the teen later removes the questionable content, the digital imprint of it will remain on the Internet.

Online distractions sidetrack teens from school work. Time management can be difficult enough for teens without the virtually infinite distractions of the Internet. Homework might not remain a priority. For this reason, it is essential that parents set limits on the amount of time teens are allowed to use technology for entertainment.

As children enter their teenage years, parents should be aware of the advantages and disadvantages that media present. To today’s adults, it might seem strange that teens are comfortable spending so much time gazing at screens. Remember, however, that today’s young people are “native speakers” in the Internet language and culture. They have never experienced a world without ever-present connectivity, so it seems natural to document and share their lives through technology. When it comes to parenting our techie teens, “everything in moderation” seems to be the wisest approach.

On behalf of the Knox County Schools Family and Community Engagement Department, thank you for reading our monthly article! For more information on the resources available to Knox County Schools’ students and families, visit us online at knoxschools.org/fce.

The Knox County Schools Family Resource

Center’s Community Resource of the Month

Tamekia Jackson, Director


Through April 15, 2015: Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) will be available through April 15 through the Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee (CAC). VITA provides free tax preparation and filing services for low-to-moderate income individuals and households. IRS-certified volunteers are on site, offering free information, tax preparation and electronic filing for the previous year.

Contact CAC for more information on VITA locations and hours:

Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee (CAC)

L.T. Ross Building, 2247 Western Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37921


Tracey Matthews currently serves as Knox County Schools’ District-wide Family and Community Engagement Supervisor. In this position, Tracey has been entrusted with the responsibility to facilitate the district’s course toward building stronger and lasting partnerships between families, schools, and the community. For more information, please visit the Family and Community Engagement at knoxschools.org.

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