The Adult Guide to Life Online

I wish. When I wrote The Teenage Guide to Life Online, I wanted it just to be called Life Online. That is what my publisher and I decided but unfortunately other conversations happened and I discovered that it had been changed to The Teenage Guide to Life Online for the admittedly valid reason that I am known for writing The Teenage Guide to This and That. I still think it was a mistake. Young people don’t want a 57-year-old woman preaching to them about their smartphones and social media use. When I go into schools to talk about the subject I have to start by dealing with hostility from the audience, all based on the title! If it was called, “How to make your parents behave online” I might be able to cut the first ten minutes of every talk!

They need to see that a) I don’t preach – never have, b) I am very critical indeed of much adult behaviour with phones and believe we should ALL follow the same guidelines and c) since I’ve been on the Internet and social media for longer than any teenager, I do actually know stuff about it! I am also rather addicted to my smartphone and I do not behave perfectly. I should also point out that what I say and write comes not from my imagination but from years of studying and understanding about the brain and reading all the research I can get my hands on (and understanding how to judge it).

I’ve always said that many adults behave badly with their phones. They over-use, look at them when someone wants to talk, take them to bed, check them first thing in the morning, do stupid stuff sometimes, waste time. And kids know this. It must be incredibly irritating when adults tell them to use their phones less while the adults are using their phones more.

The restaurant chain, Frankie and Benny’s, has listened to young people. They did a survey of 1500 parents and children and discovered some unsurprising (to me) things:

  • 72% of children wished their parents spent less time on devices at meals
  • 56% of people between 6 and 16 said they felt ignored
  • 1 in 10 said they’d hidden a parent’s device to get their attention
  • 15% said they thought their parents preferred their phones to talking to them
  • PARENTS were also concerned about their own use, with over 75% feeling guilty and 67% saying their phone had come between them and their family
Because, obvs, what he’s doing is SO important but what young people are doing…pfffth

When you hear of disgusting abuse on social media, is this kids or adults? Most often adults. In restaurants, look around and see the adults on their phones. Yes, sometimes kids, too – but why aren’t the parents talking to them?

But let’s, please, get away from generation-based criticism. It’s unhelpful and inaccurate. Let’s just try to get everyone to behave healthily and to look after themselves and each other so that we can all use our devices as tools and not be used by them. There are good ways to behave online and bad ways, and ways that are neither good nor bad. And adults and young people need the info.

So, we need an everyone’s guide to Life Online. And it’s what I wrote. Read it if you want to understand the real science behind concentration and distraction, online disinhibition, addiction, competition, comparison, self-esteem. Read it if you want to know truth and common sense, not exaggeration and misinformation. Read it if you want to know the benefits as well as the negatives of these exciting, brilliant and phenomenally compelling gadgets.


Schools, I have free teaching materials and printable postcards and advice sheets. See here for all the details. And let me know if you want to buy a class set at 20% discount. I’ll send you more free stuff, if you do!

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