Teens try to balance online offline lives


The Twin Cities Daily Planet recently ran an interesting article on getting teens to give up their smartphones for a week – just to see how it goes…

Trent Mitchell, a video production teacher at Shorecrest High School in Shoreline, Wash., conducted what he called “The Social Experiment” in winter 2010. He assigned students in his class to go a week without using electronic devices.

When he told the students about his idea, he said about half of them wanted no part of it, while the other half embraced the challenge.

After two or three days, Mitchell said about half of the students quit the experiment. Some said they didn’t want to do it; others simply couldn’t handle being without technology.

Once the week ended, Mitchell said that most of the students who made it through the first three days also made it through the week.

“They needed to get over that hump at the beginning,” he said.

“The thing we were looking for wasn’t that they would change, but so that they would understand how much they rely on technology. There were a few students that said, ‘Maybe I don’t need to be on Facebook 24/7’ or ‘Maybe I don’t need to have my phone on me all the time.’ It’s OK to unplug for a little bit. That wasn’t the common reaction.”

I live with two teens. There’s no question that the smartphone is primarily a communication tool for them but that’s not the only role the phone plays. It’s also a quick reference tool for homework, an alarm clock, a private video/TV viewer, a calendar and to-do list. And once they can drive I’m sure it will become a map.

I believe one of my teens could give up the smartphone for a week; the other would have troubles. Both would last much longer than I would without it.

It’s an interesting conundrum – how to balance the two worlds. Certainly there are times when you miss out in the real world because you have your nose in the phone. But I have to say there have also been times when I’ve been able to find a funky restaurant in a new town or a pop up event in my own town thanks to being online.

The other issue – not as much for teens but adults – is that our smartphones free us from being tethered to a desk, which is nice if you want to catch a kid’s volleyball game midweek but it also means many of us are “on” for weekends, holidays and vacations

The balance is important but many it’s not an all or nothing proposition. Maybe it’s a matter or priority and flexibility.