Conversation with High school students

Today many students have mobile phones, laptops, and they are active on social media but very few parents know what they do. Last month, I had several opportunities to talk with high school students. These are things that they told me and I think every parent needs to know:

A student said: “When my father saw that I play video games and not studying, he took the laptop away. He did not know that I can still play video games at my friends’ places. Even without the laptop, I can still use my mobile phone. My parent does not know that mobile phone is another laptop, only smaller.”

When more students have a mobile phone, the use of the phone in class has become a problem to teachers. There are two views about mobile devices in the classroom: To forbid the use in class or to ignore their use in class. Even teachers forbid them, many students are still using them anyway. A student, told me: “I do not think cell phone use has a negative impact on my studying. Teachers should focus on the teaching and not law enforcement. If they do not pay attention, we still texting anyway.”

I asked: “But why do you have to check Facebook during the class? Can you wait until later?” A student explained: “You do not understand how important Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter are to us. That is the way we communicate with others.” I asked: “But can you talk to each other by phone after class?” The whole group laughed, a student said: “Today we do not talk anymore, everybody text. It is faster and easier.”

I questioned: “But why Facebook and Instagram?” A student said: “There are many things happen in the virtual world and we do not want to miss them.” I was surprised: “What are you missing?” She explained: “Most of my friends are sharing things with others online. I want to be in that conversation. We all want to be connected and not being left out.” I argued: “Then you do not have time to study if you keep checking Facebook? She said: “You do not understand that connection is very important to us and the feeling of being left out is worse.” I asked: “How much time do you spend daily on your facebook account?” The whole group laughed, and someone said: “A lot, we go online daily, hourly, all the time.” I asked: “Does your parent know about it?” They all laughed again: “They are too busy and do not know what we are doing.” A student explained: “When they see us using a laptop, they think we are studying. They have no idea what we are doing.”

I asked: “Have you ever getting bored with Facebook or Instagram?” A student answered: “How can we be bored? There are so many things happen in the virtual world. We read everything from music to sports, from movie stars to all kind of news. Sometimes we share our opinion about certain events.” I asked: “How many of you are using online education courses such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) or tutorials on Youtube?” Students answered: “We do access some online courses if we are interested in the subjects. Many of us learn to build websites, create blogs, learn to programme from MOOCs but most of us getting bored and quit. We prefer to follow others?” I was surprised: “What do you follow?” They all laughed: “You may not know these people, we follow sports stars, movies stars.There are many special personalities online that we follow.”

I know that these high school students are young and not mature enough to understand the consequences of their actions. Technology is a two-edged sword, it can provide significant benefits but also can lead young students to harmful ways. I think every parent needs to learn more about the “Digital generation” and be able to discuss with them about these issues. Taking away the laptop, or forbid them to access certain websites are not effective. Most parents have no idea what their children are doing online or what are they sharing there. I know that parents are busy but they need to spend time interacting with their children, talk to them and discuss with them about things that concern them. Today telling, forbidding, and ordering children are things of the past. What young people need is someone who can listen to them, understand them, and share time with them.

I believe the issue of young people being occupied with online social media and the desire to be connected are symptoms of being isolated and loneliness in a fast-changing environment where everybody is busy. Technology is neither good or bad, it is how we use it. Social media is neither good or bad, it is a new way to communicate. If the children think their parents do not know anything about technology, they will not ask for guidance and may follow their friends or someone online and could be leading to harmful ways. I think every parent should learn more about these social media issues instead of ignoring them. When parents understand their children’s needs and willing to discuss with them openly and compassionately, it can help improve the relationships . If parents want their children to use technology for their benefits, they have to learn to listen more and change the way they talk to their children about these issues.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University