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Digital Summer Time: How Do Kids Keep Busy?

LAKSHMI on July 19, 2017

It is tempting to start this article with “when I was young, summer holidays were so much fun”. As I think this out loud, my new teen kid, lifts her head from her smart phone and with the characteristic teenage eye roll, says “oh puleez, you didn’t even have a computer, let alone Internet. Do you even know what fun is?”. Cycling under the scorching midday sun with fellow teenagers, and chasing the ice cream truck’s bell are the number one causes of sunstroke, I am told. Instead, reading up everything real and imaginary about Jeon Jungkook (I refuse to Google that one up) and swapping pictures, news, videos, views and tales (“fanfic, mom, not tales”) about him (or is it her? I still refuse to Google it) with friends over imessage, whatsapp, and “Insta” are what fun is all about. Now may I leave her alone to her real and imaginary friends please?

I shake myself out of the Miniver Cheevy mindset and choose to think pragmatically. It’s delusional to believe that the tools of fun remain invariant with time. I also realize with a shock that in the past one year, I have lost touch with what my kid and her peers consider fun now. It just strikes me that the one thing that my kid doesn’t complain as much about as I did three days into my own summer vacations in olden times, is “I am bored”. There seems no need for boredom anymore because the world is brought into a little glowing screen that has become their essential appendage. So what are the magic activities that keep the kid from feeling boredom, which I read and agree with is essential for leading a full life? I pull my kid’s head out of the phone and ask her. What follows are a list of activities of teenagers (in no particular order), given the unending supply of leisure that is typical of holiday periods, ready availability of gadgets of their own and a crazy fast Internet bandwidth.

  • Facebook/Social media: There has been much written about the social media life of teenagers, by us and others. To the teenager, Social media is an important tool for interaction and conversation with peers. Pew Research shows that in the US, 76% of all teens use social media to connect with other teens. Most teens have made new friends on a social media platform.To recap what has already been said in our own earlier article on the subject, “Social networking and online groups enable youth to connect to likeminded individuals who share niche interests. In such networks, the teenager may find peers outside their geographic boundaries. Social media also allows youngsters to avail of opportunities to publicize and distribute their talents and gain new forms of visibility and reputation. Obviously, social media participation that is driven by the need for social-interaction (“Friendship”) is functionally different from interest-driven participation. The former center on peer culture and often tends to exclude adult participation while the latter has no such restrictions.”

  • Videos: YouTube continues to be a prevalent source of entertainment for youngsters. What they watch varies depending on their age, gender, peer group and interests. Assuming that the teenager is responsible about what she chooses to see online (my adult brain says “oxymoron”), teenage girls in my kid’s virtual neighborhood watch music videos, vlogs, comedy videos, and talk shows. A web search on this throws out an unexpected statistic. Online product reviews are most widely watched, it seems.

On confronting the handy teenager, I am told “oh yeah, but those don’t count”. Teenagers commonly look up videos on gadgets, and informational videos that vary with their current interest. The in-house football enthusiast, for example, admits to have spent a few entertaining hours starting with the Hand of God and moving on to wherever youtube took her thereon. Many teenagers watch comedy shows and movies on Netflix as well.  

  • Games: There is a gender divide here, with digital games attracting more boys than girls. Pew Research shows that 84% of all teenage boys and 59% of teenage girls play video games on a computer, game console or portable device like a cellphone. It has also been found that 91% of video-gaming boys play with others over a network, of which a third play every day.

  • Podcasts: Being a reader, rather than a listener myself, this is unusual to me. But apparently podcasts are a rage among audiophilic teenagers. If they are not listening to music, they are probably listening to podcasts of topics that interest them - pop culture, humor, news, and all in between.

  • eBooks: The digital age has, I am happy to know, not killed the reading habit among youngsters, as is often claimed. In fact, Pew reports that American youth (less than 30 years of age) are more likely than those over 30 years of age to read a book on a weekly basis (67% vs 58%). The tool for reading has, however, expanded. While physical books continue to be largely read – 75% preferred to read print books in 2012 , and a year later, 62% of youngsters continued to prefer paper-books to ebooks - teenagers are increasingly reading comics and books on their Kindle, tablets and computers, and what they read is largely influenced by their peer group. As with every teenage generation that has passed (except perhaps in the late nineteenth century), the current craze trumps Anna Karenina, but that is to be expected.

  • Blogs: While blogs have certainly gone out of fashion in recent times, there are a few youngsters, especially creative ones, who continue to blog in private or to a restricted audience, or in public. The blogs help the teenager to “let off steam”, allow the creative juices to flow or merely communicate with peers and strangers alike.

There are other activities as well, such as Wiki search of some topic of interest – news, health, fitness, art, literature, games, movies and more, but these fall into one or more of the above categories.

Yes, there has been a catastrophic decline of real-life activities, such as biking under the hot noonday sun and chasing the icecream truck, but teenagers continue to engage in, even if less extensively than before, structured/nonstructured non-digital activities such as playing offline games and sport, engaging in volunteer activity (I know of at least two teenagers in my neighbourhood who volunteer at the local hospital) and offline socialization.  

As with everything in the digital age, the watchword is balance. It is very easy in the age of rebellion to lose sight of balance and overdo digital entertainment to the point of addiction. It is, as it has always been, the responsibility of the adult to ensure that the teenager is steered with discretion, towards balance. That of course, hinges on the sense of the balance of the adult herself, and that would be a hairy topic for another day.


Writing credit: Authored by Lakshmi, a Mobicip researcher and parent who strives to find the perfect balance between the online and offline existence.
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