Quality or Quantity? Teaching Teens To Be Smart Consumers
Anthony Mwangi, Leadership Teacher at Crawford International School
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 audio-visual content are in essence consumers in a market. Their currency is time- the watch hours that they put in. So much of this currency 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 upon 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 so vital that we introduce our kids to as many activities as is practically possible before they become teenagers. Pay for their music lessons, enroll them in dance classes, train them how to play chess, invest in their art lessons, buy them a variety of sporting gear, and invest in their training.
This will provide them with a whole range of productive alternatives when it comes to maximizing the use of their time. Two qualities define a smart consumer. They plan on 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.
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 6 am 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 that 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 get 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.