Is Technology Hurting Or Helping Our Teens?

You always worry about your kids. When they were younger, you feared they’d fall down the stairs or toddle their little legs over to the electrical outlets. Now that your child is older, the worries are still there, but the dangers have changed. Your child is now a teen, using a smartphone, and driving.

Smartphone use comes many benefits, but in the long run, is this technology hurting or helping our teens?

Pros and cons of technology for teens

For better or worse, the birth of smartphones has dramatically changed the way we live.  According to the Pew Research Center, 95 percent of teens “have access” to a smartphone and 45 percent of them are online “almost constantly.” Are kids having this constant access to the internet and apps a good thing or a bad thing?

Benefits to teens carrying smartphones

  • Give parents peace of mind because it’s an easy way to stay in contact with their kids.
  • Ease of and access to online information is helpful to kids and teens as a learning tool.
  • Online access provides increased social opportunities, especially beneficial for shy kids or those that struggle with in-person communication.

Drawbacks to teens carrying smartphones

  • Spend too much time online and/or begin to show addictive tendencies to apps, social media, games, and other smartphone features.
  • Irresponsible use of technology (i.e. texting and driving).
  • Exposes teens to scary situations such as those involving cyberbullying or cyberstalking.

Kids also seem to be receiving phones at younger ages. According to statistics, just under 50 percent of kids get their first phone by the age of 12. Whether to give a teen the responsibility of a smartphone is an individual family decision and what works for one child or family may not for another.

However, when kids grow up to be adults, the reality is they’ll need to know how to be tech savvy if they want to survive in our increasingly tech-centric world. They’ll need to grow into a “safety” mindset of knowing how to protect both themselves and their personal information. At some point, they’ll need to learn how to be responsible tech users, and proponents feel growing up with a phone helps them transition to becoming responsible adult tech users.

But is that always the case? Probably yes, but in other situations, probably not.

Driving and texting

Despite the fact, most teens have a smartphone and enjoy the benefits of carrying one, one significant drawback of technology that deserves a mention of its own is driving and texting. Distracted driving has always been a problem, but in previous generations, technology wasn’t available to compound this serious issue. Since the adoption of smartphones, current statistics indicate driving risks have significantly increased.

  • Distracted driving has three classifications, manual, visual, and cognitive. Texting involves all three, which means it puts the driver, passengers, other drivers, and pedestrians in increased danger.
  • Despite teens recognizing talking, texting, and using social media while driving is unsafe, they do it anyway.
  • Statistics show one in three teens text while driving. Fifty-eight percent of teen crashes are related to driver distraction.
  • The crash rate for teens is three times higher than it is for ages 20 and up.
  • Parents who drive distracted are two to four times likely to have teens who drive distracted.

If these statistics are any indicator, adding phones to the mix has proven to be downright dangerous when it comes to teens driving. And, unlike putting gates across stairs and covers over outlets, once your teen gets independently behind the wheel, you aren’t always going to be there to protect them from the dangers.

Apps and devices for monitoring teens

Being today’s teens as Gen Z’ers and the first generation to be true digital natives, they instinctively can’t stay away from their phones. That being said, they need to be taught differently than previous generations of teens were. Ironically, tech can help. Since you can’t always be present to protect your teen from a head-on collision or other accident related to driving, there are some proactive steps you can take to monitor them and/or limit their phone usage when driving.

  • Drive Safe Mode is an app enabling parents to track their teens’ phone use by sending a notification if they are texting or using social media apps while driving. Compatible with both Android and iPhone.
  • AT&T DriveMode is a free app that blocks text notifications and sends automatic replies; it activates once a car reaches 15 mph.
  • CellControl DriveID is a device that attaches to windshields and works in conjunction with an app to block drivers from receiving or replying to texts. It requires a one-time activation fee and a monthly fee.
  • is an app that reads incoming texts and emails aloud, allowing drivers to keep eyes focused on the road while keeping hands off phones.
  • Drive mode is an Android-based app that reads texts aloud and integrates navigation and music in a less distracting form than traditional apps.
  • Apple iOS 11 comes with a “Do Not Disturb While Driving” mode to block texts, calls, and other notifications while driving (calls are allowed if the car/phone are linked via Bluetooth).

Other apps parents can use to limit their teens’ phone use while driving include Live2Txt (Android users only), In-Traffic Reply (Samsung/Android), Sprint Drive First (Sprint subscribers), and Verizon Driving Mode (Verizon/Android).  Further options include Hum, which is a device that can show you where your Hum-equipped cars are currently — and where they are heading—in almost real time.

Additionally, newer cars are being manufactured with high-tech safety in mind. Equipped with warning features designed to help drivers who tend to have lapses in attention, road- test evaluations are finding they can help drivers steer clear of potential crashes.

Having a series of heart-to-heart conversations can go a long way towards helping teens become responsible drivers. However, it can’t hurt to add some hard-installed tools or phone apps to the mix. Doing so can give parents a little more control of and knowledge about their teens’ driving habits, helping them to recognize it’s not safe to automatically grab for the phone every time it buzzes.

As a parent, these technologies can help you to guide your teens to become safer drivers or, worst-case scenario, provide you with justification for taking away the keys until they demonstrate they are ready to ignore the phone and be responsible drivers.

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