The data is in…and it is NOT GOOD! Would any of us as parents begin supplying
tobacco to our middle school children, or drugs and alcohol to our high schoolers? Of
course not, they are not mature enough to assess the addictive nature of the products, not
to mention the health risks. What I see in many of my students is a “live in the moment”
approach to life; “Count the costs…no way, that’s for grown ups”.

Yet nearly all of as parents provide our children with a product that is proving to be both
extremely addictive and outright dangerous. A product that we are told will keep us in
touch with our kids in case of an emergency, help us with the logistics of parenting (“Hey
Mom, practice is done, can you pick me up?), and bring the family of the 21 st Century
together (I have a mental picture of the Xfinity commercials wherein the family is all
gathered together in the living room). Yes, the product we so willingly provide to our
children is the smart phone.

Yeah, the 21 st Century family is all together in the same room, each on their own device;
some with virtual reality goggles on, only to be interrupted by Mom – with much
groaning and gnashing of teeth – telling them that dinner will be ready in five minutes. I
asked my 8 th graders this year how many have been together in the same room and instead
of talking with one another, they were texting, snap-chatting or some other written form
of communication. Nearly half of them admitted to this….”it’s just easier because we are
already on line” they explained. I asked them: “What is wrong with this picture; is this
healthy?”

So the data is in; what is it telling us? The creators of the games, apps and social media
admit to designing them for maximum impact. In a recent article interviewed one of the
creators of Twitter readily acknowledged that Twitter has fundamentally altered how we
as a society communicate with one another, and NOT for the better. The designers of the
games, apps and social media want your attention…all of your attention all the time.
Another study has our youth spending way more time at home (often alone in their
rooms) than in previous generations. Perhaps the most disturbing development is a
significant increase in depression and anxiety. One of my students indicated that FOMO
(i.e. Fear of Missing Out) often cripples him emotionally. Again, I asked: “Is this
healthy?” The answer was a resounding “NO”…yet they cannot pull themselves away
from the device. It is truly like the Siren’s call.

Now lest you think I am a complete Luddite, the smart phone is a wonderful tool. A
hammer is a perfect instrument for pounding in nails; it is not so good if it is bashing in
someone’s emotional well being, or crippling the development our relational skills. Aa
parents we need to model the behavior we want them to follow, set boundaries, monitor
their on line activities and encourage them to put the device away when they are in the
presence of others. Maybe consider a “dumb phone” – one that just makes phone calls
and texts? I realize that this approach is counter-cultural and risks discord at home, yet
there are greater risks in choosing to do nothing. The product is addictive and dangerous.
Let’s help our kids be smarter than the smart phones and teach them to use it wisely.

Peter Fetterly