Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? A Parental Opinion

This month, The Atlantic ran a think-piece, aptly titled Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? The article displayed staggering, and quite frankly startling, facts around the negative impact smartphones and smart technology is having on the post-Millennial generation. “More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.”

While not all agree on the severity of the consequences the article displays, the topic is, at the very least, complex and worth a dialogue. Telford Burtts, Senior Producer, weighed in on the impact smart technology is having within the lives of his children and the intricacy around parenting when smartphone use often dominates the behavior of our kids’ most influential adults.

As a parent of an 11 yr. old daughter and a 9 yr. old son I am sensitive to their exposure to screen time. They have a constant want for playing video games (I did too), watching YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Video, etc. More often they are asking when I think they can get a phone of their own as their friends have them.

My current defense against getting them a phone is challenging them to improve their test scores for subjects they are challenged in. For my daughter, it’s Mathematics and writing, and for my son, it’s reading and writing. If and when they will reach the benchmarks I’ve set for them, I will have the hard decision as a parent to get them a phone, knowing that with a smartphone they will officially be a citizen of the iGen population. I know I can’t keep them from it forever…or can I?

The information in this article is what motivates me to regulate their screen time and kick my kids out of the house, as my parents did. Go play outside, read a book, write in your journal, play your instrument, etc. The problem I find is that while I may get my kids out of the house, their friends or kids in the neighborhood don’t have the same motivation to be off screen and play like the good ol’ days. As a work-around, we have to schedule play dates or activities/excursions just to get our kids exposed to in-person social activities. We have to put them in organized sports or extended learning programs in the community (a.k.a. free kid-sitting).

It is a challenge because my kids see my wife and I on our devices answering emails, texting to friends and peers, checking Facebook, reading the news, watching Netflix, and not getting out to play ourselves…representing all of the behaviors that we say they are not ready for. I know, it’s the “do what I say, not what I do” talk.

And they don’t just see it with us. Much of the behaviors reported in this article are behaviors I see with my adult friends, family, peers, etc., and it is pretty much everywhere we go. We are face down in our phones surfing the web and keeping tabs on social media during dinner, when talking with friends, while we walk down the street, while we drive, and I could go on and on. We freak out when we can’t find our phones like we lost our child in a crowded park. If our screen cracks or our phone dies it is top priority to immediately get a replacement, as you may miss ‘something’ important, even though we have 4 other devices we could jump on to stay connected.

There is a lot of responsibility and discipline for parents when handing over the phone to your child. The responsibility to display the proper use of a tool that gives you access to everything and anyone without leaving the comforts of your couch. There needs to be an awareness to not to fall into the trap of always having your phone on, frequently checking to see if anything has changed within the last 30 minutes.

We as parents/adults have to create an openness to talk not just with our kids, but all kids we are exposed to about online expectations, responsibility, safety, being a good human being, and proper etiquette. We must model good behavior for them. Talk with them about consuming information and being critical about what the motivation is behind the message they are reading; to form your own opinion and not take everything posted on social as fact; to disassociate with people who don’t bring value to your life. We must emphasize the importance of having experiences in real life vs. living it through a screen that fits in your hand.

My kids and their kids and their kids will always be exposed and presented with technology. It is a basic need (as long as the grid stays up) for them as a digital species. Their challenge will be to recognize when their exposure and experience with technology becomes unhealthy and no longer brings a benefit or value to their life.



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