Digital Boundaries For Generation Z

by Chris

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I have written previously on this blog about the issues of teenagers getting enough sleep. So it will come as no surprise to those who are regular readers of this blog that the following research about Generation Z and sleep caught my attention recently.

Lisa Matricciani, a researcher from the University of South Australia, has examined the sleeping habits of 690,747 children in 20 countries, over the last century (between 1905 and 2008 to be exact.) She found children were losing 45 seconds of sleep a year. This loss of sleep appears to coincide with technological improvements over the decades.

“Children have lost about an hour of sleep over the last century,” Lisa stated in an interview with The Australian newspaper. “They’re sleeping about 20 minutes less per day than their parents were when they were the same age. We’ve got things that make children want to go to sleep later, like computers and television, and the means to keep them awake.”

Part of the reason is that bedtimes have been progressively getting later but kids are waking up at the same time. “Technology use, schoolwork and part-time employment have all been associated with delayed bedtimes and reduced sleep duration,” Lisa said.

This doesn’t come as any great shock to those who have been closely watching the way this generation of young people are growing up as the children of the digital revolution. This is just another study highlighting, among other things, the need for parents today to be aware of how digital technology is impacting their teenage kids.

Technology, Teenagers, & Boundaries

Most parents are pretty good at setting general boundaries for the teenagers, however research has shown that less that half set boundaries with their teenagers in relation to their use of technology. A big part of the reason for this is that today’s parents didn’t grow up needing “technology” boundaries, other than not watching R rated videos.

The consequences for not helping young people manage their online and digital lifestyles go well beyond just losing sleep. Issues of being responsible digital citizens, protecting their identity and reputation, appropriate disclosure, sexting, pornography, cyber-bullying, and stalking are just some of the reasons that teenagers need mature guides in this area of their lives.

Setting Digital Boundaries

Setting boundaries and appropriate behaviour is very much something that belongs in the domain of the family, so it is up to parents and guardians to actually decide how they will help their teenagers and what limits they will set. With that in mind here are some areas to consider discussing with teenagers:

  • Does your teenager have time limits about how much ‘screen time’ they can have each day?
  • Does your family have any technology free time? i.e. the evening meal
  • What time does technology need to be switched off of a night? Does this include mobile phones?
  • Are teenagers allowed to use computers in their bedroom? If so what are the limits / safeguards?
  • Do teenagers sleep with their mobile phones in their room?
  • Do your teenagers understand about what information they are allowed to share online and what information is not to be disclosed online? Have you had that conversation with them personally?
  • Does you teenager know what to do if they get abusive or defamatory emails, or messages? Do they know what to do if they see or receive defamatory information about other people they know?

This is not intended to be a definitive list, but merely a prompt to get you thinking about what boundaries and guidance you have given your teenager.  There may be some things you need some guidance on yourself so I have included a few places to start if you are uncertain:

Net Family News – My favourite site for information and guidance on digital citizenship

Cyber Smart -  A government portal with loads of resources

That’s Not Cool – A site for teenagers about setting digital boundaries

I am sure some of you have great ideas of your own or know of other helpful resources.  Please share with the rest of us in the comments below.

Image by felix_le_chat

  • amanda

    we try and ensure the modem is off at 9.00pm so wireless devices accessing facebook cannot be used however a free version of facebook is available on telstra mobiles (no download needed or internet access) thus we are fighting a losing battle he will swap to his phone once internet is off (does anyone know if i am able to turn this off via telstra). we also say no phones in bedrooms to charge at night. my 16 year old makes me feel like i am a bad parent and intense rows are had over theses rules as he tests the boundaries every month or so about them. any suggestions……. thanks

  • Chris

    Amanda I am certain you are not alone in your struggle with technology and teenage boundaries. I’d be interested in what others think or have done. My thoughts (for what they are worth)
    There are ways of monitoring and blocking aps on smartphones (i.e. Phone Sheriff http://tinyurl.com/64ucgys)
    HOWEVER – as this post from Anne Collier http://www.netfamilynews.org/?p=29654 highlights there is a risk in reacting to strongly to teenage use/ over use of technology. If the phone becomes a symbol of a power struggle then the issue is bigger than the technology.
    My thoughts are that this is a boundary issue. At 16 he needs to feel like he has some sort of autonomy, particularly responsibility and trust. So in that way the mobile in the bedroom is a boundary that needs negotiation with “give / take” and “trust / consequence.” Maybe getting him to set new boundaries with you is a way forward. If the new arrangements require you to trust him that is good BUT you have to state clearly what the consequences of violating the boundaries are and be prepared to follow through. Just my thoughts – love to know what others think also.