Are your children addicted to their smartphones?

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Open letters by two of Apple’s biggest investors urging the company to help children fight their addiction to technology vindicate my worries. For years I have tried to pry my sons away from their digital devices and failed. (Now it has become an extension of their hands.) Many of my friends have done the same.

However younger parents, many of whom are equally enslaved by technology, are now contributing to the problem.

While in the doctor’s waiting room a couple of weeks ago, I noticed some parents offering smartphones to pacify their restless kids. One toddler even had a phone of her own.

I expected my 18-year-old to point this out but he was too engrossed in his own device. And for once I was thankful for it.
If I was surprised that children as young as 9 had their own Facebook accounts (and this was more than 5 years ago), seeing toddlers navigating smartphones as they would toys was even more alarming.

While we might choose to attribute the blame to peer pressure or put it down to keeping up with the times, we ought to look no further than the mirror for the correct answer. After all who makes the purchasing decisions?

The truth is that smartphones and other digital devices are convenient babysitting tools. They keep the children quiet, in one place and out of your hair.

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I am reminded of when my older son tried to make a case for the Gameboy more than ten years ago. “Then I won’t be bothering you,” he said. We too caved in after a while. I am ashamed to admit the younger one got his Gameboy at the age of 5. Our excuse at that time was that it was a free, introductory offer from our Internet provider.

Psychologists have been trying to make their voices heard over the din of the constant clicks, tweets and texting for years. Now that Apple investors are voicing their concerns about the effect of technology on a child’s brain, hopefully we will all sit up and take notice.

Many studies link depression and suicidal behaviour to excessive phone and social media usage. In fact, an abstract of one such study published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science stated that adolescents who spent more time on new media (including social media and electronic devices such as smartphones) were more likely to report mental health issues than those who spent more time on non-screen activities (in-person social interaction, sports/exercise, homework, print media, and attending religious services). It went on to say that since 2010, iGen adolescents (young people born between 1995 and 2012—that’s both my sons, ouch!!!) have spent more time on new media screen activities and less time on non-screen activities, which may account for the increases in depression and suicide.

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Dr Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego University, who classifies those born after 1995 as iGen, points out that all the technological progress we are be so proud of might actually be harming our adolescents. Her most recent book, ‘iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood — And What That Means for the Rest of Us’, puts this generation under the microscope. Extensive research and interaction with American youth led her to conclude that with social media and texting replacing other activities, iGen spends less time with their friends in person which could be why they are experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

Other researchers also say that iGen is not lazy like we thought. (That’s a revelation!) They are just taking longer to mature. They point out that for previous generations (like mine) growing up as a teenager was all about spending time with friends and going out. iGen however, interacts with their peers via their digital devices and social media. This can lead to isolation, loneliness and low self-esteem. At an age where they are building self-worth and confidence, many teens look to their social media circles for approval. Over reliance and feelings of not measuring up to others significantly reduced their self-worth, confidence and zest for life.

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In response, Apple has promised more parental controls. But what happens in situations where parents are addicted to smartphones and social media themselves?

It is not uncommon to find older individuals paying more attention to their phones than people at social gatherings. While at first you might assume it is a crisis they are responding to, very often it turns out that they are just sending or receiving photos from friends and family.

As one friend pointed out, they are more intent on capturing the moment on their phones than living it. We were at a party where groups of people were constantly taking pictures of themselves on their smartphones.

Then there are those who will even take their phones to the washroom.

What message are we sending our iGen kids!!! We need to detox before we can implement any strategies to save them.

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