• Training our kids on how to plan the use of their time is a critical life skill
• Ensures production outweighs consumption, such as making over watching a video
In the digital space, teenagers are buffeted by all manner of products. It is, therefore, not uncommon to find a group of teenagers bundled together in a room, each one engrossed in the virtual market conveniently presented to them through their electronic devices.
Unaware of it, these teenagers, in the very act of devouring audiovisual content, are in essence consumers in a market. Their currency is time: the watch hours that they put in. So much of this currency do they seem to have that they can spend hours on end, watching videos, playing video games and looking at pictures.
In this era of a digital revolution, if one is not careful, they may waste away their future by spending it all on watching stuff that adds no real substance to life. There is an endless supply of content for many a teenager out to ‘kill’ time. To begin with, if time is something that you need to kill, it is a clear sign that something is amiss. William James, the American psychologist, said, “To kill time is not murder, it’s suicide.”
It goes without saying that we can improve the quality of our lives by improving the quality of how we use our time. For instance, if I spend my day doing a variety of activities, such as serving in a children’s home, reading a spiritual book, taking an evening walk in a park, writing a poem, playing a musical instrument and perhaps developing an animation, the quality of my life would be better than if I spend my entire day watching movies and funny videos.
Variety is the spice of life, but one does not just accidentally stumble on a life rich in wholesome and productive activities. This is a process that takes discipline, fortitude and, to an extent, financial resources.
As a parent, it is vital that we introduce our kids to as many activities as is practically possible before they become teenagers. Pay for their music lessons, enrol them in dance classes, train them how to play chess, invest in their art lessons, buy them sporting gear and invest in their training. This will provide them with a whole range of productive alternatives when it comes to maximising on the use of their time.
Two qualities define a smart consumer. They plan on the use of their income and they spend it under a budget constraint. In the same way, teaching teenagers to be smart digital consumers entails inculcating in them these qualities. Training our kids on how to plan the use of their time is a critical life skill. It will prove invaluable, especially when you might not be with them in college.
I never cease to be amazed by how readily some people watch and forward content that others have created on social media, but they have never created any content worth sharing
A plan on how to use your time will be a critical safety net when it comes to controlling screen time for a teenager. The urge to check out a new sensational video at 6am will be repulsed by a plan that requires the teenager to be on the basketball court, perfecting their dribbling and shooting techniques. The plan serves as a restraining order, and when one is in the habit of planning their day and following through, they are in a better position to be a responsible digital citizen, a smart consumer of digital content.
Apart from having a plan for the use of our time, it is important to have a positive balance between activities that are productive in nature and those that are consumption-oriented. For the teenager, productive activities are those that develop a certain skill or build a facet of life. It is not enough to have a plan, but what is included in the plan.
The most effective plan would be where activities that build the mind, body, spirit and social interactions outweigh activities that are simply for entertainment purposes. The smart consumer ensures the production activities built into their plan outweigh the consumption activity. For instance, creating a video is a production activity, while watching one is a consumption activity. I never cease to be amazed by how readily some people watch and forward content that others have created on social media, but they have never created any content worth sharing.
As parents, teachers and mentors, we have a huge role to play in the lives of teenagers, in investing a sense of curiosity and interest or nurturing creativity and passion for a variety of activities. We also need to train and challenge them to be content creators. This will create depth, increase the choice of available alternatives and enrich the quality of life.
Anthony Mwangi is a leadership teacher at Crawford International School