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Living with the Enemy

Before the pandemic, parents were becoming increasingly anxious about the stranger that had seduced their children, but lockdown both firmly entrenched them and made it clear they were here to stay. It wasn’t an isolated phenomenon, with 94% of 14 – 17-year-olds  involved. The strangers weren’t all bad providing a ‘personal assistant, a massive library, media creator, communications hub, language translator and entertainment centre’ all in the palm of your hand. However, they were the companion at every activity, introduced worrying ideas and language and preferred to be related to in the privacy of the bedroom. Who knew what was going on with smart devices? 

This was the question raised by Fischetti, Vaughan and Kylie (2023) who explored adolescents’ perspective on their use of devices, particularly during lockdown. In 2022 they conducted a study in an Australian capital city with 450 secondary public-school students and preliminary results are now available. These reveal that 75% of participants believe smart technologies had improved their lives and were central to their learning with 89% using notebook computer devices at school and more than half at home through their school Learning Management System. Screen time was an average 6.9 hours/day and a maximum of 14 hours. These young people demonstrated ‘productive coping mechanisms and technical know-how’ in dealing with issues that may arise when using devices to socialise. They were aware of and knew how to block and report suspicious messages, and many discussed this with friends, family, and adults at school. 

Among this cohort smart phones were not primarily for making phone calls as they may be for their parents but were used in multiple ways integral to a young person’s life. They were also a major distraction, and their users recognised this. This is a primary concern for adults who worry that social media use will impact school performance, however the data suggests that these participants do not generally agree. However, 20% reported that  social media caused negative distractions and ‘another 20% admitted to constantly checking these platforms and feeling anxious when they didn’t.’ 

As the authors note, the recommended two hours screen time a day no longer matches the place of technology in adolescents’ lives and a different approach must be found, particularly for those caught in an unhelpful grip. We need to move towards and not away from the new family member and engage in the very ancient arts of relationship and communication. Talking with young people to understand the technology they use, the place it plays in their lives and the anxieties it may generate  in both parents and adolescents is a good place to start. This is particularly important to break the vicious cycle that develops when parents become angry and frustrated at their teenager’s lack of family engagement resulting in further withdrawal and hiding in devices. A second important approach is a fair and reasonable relationship with all technology by both adults and children that protects sleep and good functioning. A blanket rule that sees devices out of bedrooms at an agreed upon hour is more likely to be respected than a rule for children that is not followed by their parents. 

The stranger is here to stay, and it is time we all made friends. 


Fischetti, J., Vaughan, S. & Shaw, K. Screen Panic: How much time is too much?  CYP Matters Issue 2,2023  

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