By Henry Li
London, United Kingdom
Adolescence is undoubtedly a tumultuous era for many. Puberty, coupled with greater responsibilities, often poses significant challenges to tweenagers. However, the advent of social media and fears of substance abuse have made parents increasingly concerned for their children’s safety. This begs the question: should we restrict our tweenagers' freedom and shield them from the outside world, or should we give them free rein to learn life lessons independently?
Tweenagers Want More Freedom
As a young adult, I understand why many younger adolescents want more freedom: meeting up with friends is fun! Indeed, socialization is an intrinsic part of tweenage life, and social media makes it considerably easier to interact with friends, both online and offline. Apps such as WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Instagram allow conversations to happen in real time, with features such as ‘stories’ letting users see what others are doing. Hence many tweenagers advocate for more freedom concerning social media usage. Chatting with others makes people feel more fulfilled and allows us to develop strong friendships that may last a lifetime.
Freedom can improve numerous other aspects of a tweenager’s life. Having the freedom to visit different places opens up opportunities for learning and trying new things. One of my favorite pastimes involves traveling to parts of London I’ve never been before, taking in the new sounds, and tasting food outside my comfort zone. Traveling has undoubtedly broadened my horizons, enlightening me about London’s cultural diversity (it’s made me much fitter, too, with all the walking I have to do!).
Parents Have Concerns
On the other side of the argument, parents fear that their tweenagers might make harmful mistakes on social media and in real life. Giving adolescents too much freedom may lead them to indulge in drugs and alcohol. Indeed, substance abuse is detrimental to a child's health and scars their future. Yet the online world is as dangerous as the real world. In September 2018, images emerged of the Canadian Prime Minister wearing blackface makeup, and the scandal undermined Mr. Trudeau's career. Therefore, parents are concerned that a seemingly silly photo that their tweenager posts might ultimately harm them later in life, especially if it’s seen by a potential employer.
A recent study estimated that kids spend as much as six hours a day online, which has several troubling consequences. Parents are concerned that tweenagers are diverting their focus from homework or sports to the screen. Screen time can create numerous health issues such as poor eyesight, lack of exercise, obesity, and more. Moreover, excessive time spent on the screen exposes adolescents to a high risk from online bullies and fraudsters. The sheer amount of time spent online places enormous pressure on a child's physical and mental health, and parents are rightly concerned.
In Teens We Trust
Being a tweenager is like walking on a tightrope. The aim is to reap the rewards of
adolescence whilst minimizing its risks. This article has focused on the abstract idea of freedom, with youngsters advocating for more liberty and parents urging for less of it. But the solution to this tug-of-war brings me to another abstract concept: trust. Parents must feel that they are able to trust their children to be responsible. While tweenagers are savvy regarding data protection, it is the role of the adult to explain the dangers of drugs and the risks associated with unhealthy screen time. Building trust is simply the best way for a tweenager to enjoy the benefits of freedom whilst understanding its risks.
So, should we restrict an adolescent's liberty? The answer: it depends. But in many cases, more freedom leads to a happier tweenager. And after all, isn't happiness the key to life?