Adolescents & The Internet; A Real Teenage Perspective

The internet is a major part of our lives today. People of all ages are using the internet for a variety of reasons, whether its work, education, entertainment, or research. However, the group that is perhaps most enthralled within the world of technology are current day adolescents. The internet was taking off at the time of their birth, and they are the first generation to grow up on the midst of technology explosion. To get information about this group of individuals, how they use technology, and how it has affected them throughout their everyday lives, we were to interview someone between the ages of 10–17 about their internet usage and how it has shaped their lives. For this assignment, I interviewed my own sister. For the sake of her identity, we will call her “Sylvia”. Sylvia is 16 years old and is a junior in High School. We are very close, so I knew that she would be open and honest with me about her experiences with the internet and technology around her. I learned very much about her and her lifestyle when it comes to technology through this interview, and I was able to make many connections to what we have been learning throughout the course.

To begin my interview, I started off with the basics. I asked Sylvia if she has internet access at home, what devices she has access too, if she is monitored on them at all, and how often she uses them throughout the day. Sylvia has access to the internet both at home and school, and the technology devices that she mainly uses are her laptop and cellphone. She expressed that she is able to use both of these to cover all of her technology needs, such as social, creative, and educational. She typically spends about 5–6 hours per day on the internet/social media, and is not monitored by parents or educators. She is not proud of the amount of time that she spends on her devices, as she stated to me, “I do feel like I spend too much time on social media. I just did an assignment for this in my personal wellness class. I spend roughly 5–6 hours on it per day which is super super bad. It’s hard because I know how awful it is, but that’s the only way that I can stay in touch with people at this point.” I think it is important for me to note that she is aware that it is not good for her to be on the internet this much, but she feels that it is required.

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We then started talking about the things that she likes about the internet and technology. To my surprise, she did not have too many positive things to say. As I stated earlier, she is not necessarily monitored when on social media. She expressed to me that she actually appreciates that she isn’t being watched all the time. “ I like that my parents trust me and give me freedom in that sense.” She feels that she has a good amount of expressive freedom throughout her social media and school work. She also appreciates the fact that she can use all of her social media platforms to keep up with her friends. She learns all of the latest drama, events, and experiences of the people that she cares about mainly through her social media platforms. She expressed to me that even though she is aware that this is not always a good thing, she appreciates it, because she feels she knows so much more about the people in her life through what they express throughout their social media pages. She also mentioned to me that the thing that she is probably most thankful for when it comes to the internet is when it comes to school and her learning experience. She feels that because of all the research at the tip of her fingers, she is actually able to take in a lot more knowledge, and doing homework and other assignments goes much faster, so that she is able to do other things throughout her day. “I picture back when people did not have laptops and google to do homework. Having to write everything down instead of type, having to search through books, it seems exhausting. I feel we are very lucky to have internet to help us along in school.” She also mentioned to me all of the tools that she has learned to use through school as well to make creative projects. Again, she talked about having to do traditional art styles a few generations back, such as painting, pottery, and drawing, but now she feels her “creative possibilities are limitless, as long as we are patient enough to learn about them.” This was very fun for me to find out, as she has never necessarily been a creative person in the past.

The conversations with Sylvia that I thought were going to be the most difficult to get information from were about the negative impacts of it on her life. Because she spends so much time on her devices, I figured that she really enjoyed and appreciated everything that it brought her. However, I discovered that it was actually extremely opposite. “I use these apps solely because I have to. If I got rid of them I would be out of the loop. I would not have access to talk to my friends.” I did not expect her to say that she uses her social media just because she feels as though she “has to”, even though she did say some of the benefits of social media, she feels that the negatives greatly outweigh the positives at times. When asking her what part of the internet she would like to get rid of she told me just general “social media”. When I asked her to elaborate on that, she stated, “I think we should get rid of it because of how badly it affects our mental health. It takes away so much time from our day, and even when we hang out with people they aren’t truly present because they’re sending a snapchat or looking at something on instagram. If social media did not exist young people would not be so obsessed with their looks as they are today. Everything revolves around beauty standards at this point. It’s how you look on instagram, it’s how you look on snapchat. None of it has to do with who we are as people. It’s created a generation that’s shallow and strives to be prettier and more perfect than the next person.” This answer shocked me greatly. I think social media has an extremely large impact adolescent lives today, and it definitely something that should be thought about more. Because of her large comment, I asked her if she felt that the her social media was a safe place for her and the people around her. She simply answered, “yeah, pretty much, in some ways”. I asked her to elaborate, and tell me ways in which it was and wasn’t. Had she been approached by strangers? Seen bullying? Contacted by creepy people? She stated, “I do feel it is safe most of the time, because a large amount of time people spend on our social media isn’t meant to be bad. Have I seen bullying? Yes, but people try to stop it. Have I been sent random DM’s of people I don’t know? Yes. Do I feel threatened? No, because what are they going to do if I don’t answer.”

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The answer she had to my previous question prompted to go deeper into another topic, internet and education. I started off by asking her a little bit about what she thought about internet in school, and what less technology in schools may look like. She stated, “Teachers would lead a lot more of class again versus finding a lot of information on our own through various websites. I miss more personal school relationships.” I asked her if technology classes were given to her throughout school that taught her how to use it efficiently and safely. She said, “I mean, just the basics. I wish we were taught more though.” I continued by asking her if she felt that she was educated enough on technology, she simply said “probably not.” I asked her to talk further, not educated enough about usage? Safety? She told me “All of it. I think everyone should learn more about it, like warning signs and stuff.” When talking about this, I thought back to my experiences in this class thus far. I was absolutely clueless about countless of the topics that we have talked about throughout our weeks together, such as algorithms, privacy, and tracking. I thought about my sister and the potential privacy and security risks she may face by not getting an education on this as well. Since our unit about algorithms, tracking, and security was my most alarming unit so far, I decided to ask her a question about that. I asked if she was aware of what algorithms and data tracking are, and she stated “Yeah I know that apps have my location and stuff and it worries me a little bit because you never know what they’re doing with it.” This just confirmed for me as a future educator that students definitely need more in depth technology usage and safety courses, as so many of them are clueless, just like I was, about the things that are popping up on their social media platforms everyday, and how they got there.

To wrap up my interview with Sylvia, I decided to ask her a few more things about her relationship with the internet, and what she wish she knew going into her journey with technology and social media. I asked her to share one piece of advice that she would share with a younger child who is just starting their internet journey. She said, “Don’t rely on it and separate yourself from it. It’s easy to be consumed by it and think that your life revolves around an instagram post or a snapchat but it really doesn’t. Make sure you don’t let it impact the important aspects of your life like relationships and mental health.” I asked her if that was something that she wishes she knew when starting to dive deeper into the internet. She said, “I just wish someone told me early on that you don’t need to post stuff to please other people. If it’s something you like, and something you feel confident about that’s all that matters. I think everyone should know that because the majority of people are posting so that other people think they look good, or they think more highly of them, when in reality that does nothing.” I thought that was a very insightful thought from her, as this is a message that I think should be conveyed to every adolescent using the internet. To close, I asked her to describe her relationship with the internet in one sentence. She simply stated, “I hate it but I have to have it.” I then asked her since she does feel like she has to have it, what would be one thing she would change about it to make it better? She said, “Give it a smaller impact on our lives. It shouldn’t have as big of a hold on us as it does.”

Throughout this interview, I learned many things both about my sister, and adolescents lives with technology. Even though I had many questions about the internet and its relationship with education and creativity, she was able to speak most on the social aspects of the internet and social media. She shared with me that most of her positive points are the ease and convenience that internet brings to creativity and her learning, and her knowledge would feel more restricted without it. However, when we covered the internet the safety and social life topic, there were endless conversations and opinions to be shared. I am thankful that my sister is able to see many of these negative aspects of the internet, as well as some of the safety concerns. However, it gets me thinking about the millions of other adolescents that use the internet on a regular basis that could be completely clueless. It is so important for young kids to be taught about what they need to be aware of when using the internet so regularly, such as bullying, unrealistic standards, data tracking and security, and so much more. Talking with Sylvia makes me realize that even though students may view learning the basics and safety of technology might be a pain at first, but they will most likely be grateful for it in the future. I know that I would. This adolescent interview really broadened my perspective on how teenagers view their lives on the internet, and it is interesting to know that even though it may not seem like it, many still would most likely appreciate if our world did not revolve around it as much as we do today.

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