I read a disturbing article this week in The Atlantic by Jean M. Twenge called, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” The article cites many problems that have arisen in what she calls the iGen (kids born between 1995 and 2012) as a result of their obsession with their smartphones: an increase in depression and loneliness, higher suicide rates, remaining more dependent upon parents, a decrease in the amount of sleep, and more.
Twenge concludes her article by stating: “The correlations between depression and smartphone use are strong enough to suggest that more parents should be telling their kids to put down their phones . . . What’s at stake isn’t just how kids experience adolescence. The constant presence of smartphones is likely to affect them well into adulthood. Among people who suffer an episode of depression, at least half become depressed again later in life.”
Like many of you, I’ve cautioned my kids to be careful with how much time they spend on their devices. I’ve set limits. I’ve even invested in apps like Net Nanny (which has a time restriction aspect). But even with all my attempts at curbing the screen obsession, I still battle my kids all too often to put their phones (or other devices) down.
The truth is, even the most well-meaning of kids can be sucked into their devices and can spend hours on them without even realizing how much time has passed. And the truth is, even the best of parents can struggle with enforcing screen limits.
None of us want our children to grow up with depression, suicidal tendencies, social ineptness, or any other problems. We love our children and are concerned about their future mental health and well-being. Twenge’s article and countless others like it point out what we already sense deep in our guts—that we need to be doing more curb our children’s insatiable appetites for their devices. But what more can we do?
Of course, if you’re like me, you’ve probably considered tossing your kids’ devices into the trash or at the very least burying them in the backyard. But technology is here to stay. And although we might refuse to buy our children devices, we can’t shelter them forever.
Ultimately my goal as a parent is to help my children develop self-control so that I no longer have to control them. I want them to set their own healthy limits so that I don’t need to do it for them. But such training takes lots of time and effort and energy, lots of frank discussions, and lots of careful monitoring.
With five teenage children, I’m in the thick of the battle with technology taking over. I can’t claim to have won on every front. I’m certainly no strategy expert. And I get discouraged like every other parent. But one thing that I’ve found that can help (besides modeling screen time boundaries) is to facilitate the development of hobbies as an alternative to screen time.
For example, one of my twin daughters (who just graduated from high school) loves yard work. When she was younger and showed an interest in flowers and gardening, I let her take over planting the flowers in the spring. It meant letting her do it her way (and not mine!). I also allowed her do whatever she wanted with my small garden so that eventually she took over, enlarged it, and now takes care of the whole thing herself. I had to pull myself out of the process and give her complete ownership.
Of course I’ve been around to assist her however she needs it. But because she “owns” it, she loves it. As a result of her passion for flowers and gardening and yard work, she spends countless hours each week outside working in the yard instead of countless hours in her room on her iphone.
The other of my twin daughters loves physical fitness. She’s developed a passion for whole body wellness including eating properly and working out. Over the past year, she’s moved that passion into becoming a Cross Fit coach and participating in Cross Fit competitions.
My point is that when our kids become passionate about something, they’re less likely to be obsessed with their devices. I’m still working with my youngest children on developing their passions.
My junior high daughter has shown a huge love of reading. So I go out of my way to put good books into her hands. My high school son has shown an interest in fishing and hunting and playing the guitar. So again, even though it takes time and effort on my part, I’m doing everything I can to promote those hobbies.
As we look ahead to the future, to our children’s future, I sincerely hope that the naysayers are wrong, that smartphones haven’t destroyed a generation. Whatever the case, I think it’s time for all of us to take more action to guard the hearts and minds of our children.