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Teens and Smartphones

Thursday, April 23, 2015

By Quinton Ellis

Hey. Remember that societal conversation we never had about whether kids should be given that exact same technology as their parents simply because they all want it? Well, we really ought to revisit that discussion again for the first time.

The first IPhone was released in June of 2007. I remind you of this in order to provide some perspective. In May of 2006, no one had a smart phone. Eight years later you are the meanest parent on the block if you deny one to your 10-year-old. That is a massive transition, and one that just sort of happened. As a society, we didn’t give much thought to the propriety of, or consequences that may arise from, installing these devices in our children’s lives. We didn’t even have a quick talk about what the smartphone might mean for us as adults.

This is not a rant against technology. The technology is awesome- it’s humans that are the problem. The potential for misuse of these devices by adults is enormous. For teenagers, take the last sentence, substitute teens for adults, and delete “potential for”. Again we return to the problem of young people and their cognitive underdevelopment. Poor impulse control and emotional instability combined with an unlimited data plan (or wor$e, a limited one) create a number of seriously uncomfortable problems that we’re all happy to avoid talking about. I’m not going to get into any of it here, either. You don’t want to read about your boys getting an incredibly warped view of what sexuality is by staring at All the Porn Ever, and you certainly don’t want to hear that your daughters are sending naked pictures of themselves to boys (and thereby everyone else, sadly) because the boys like and respect them enough to ask repeatedly for nudes. I’m not going to write about things like that because I don’t want to bum you out.

But we should acknowledge that there are at least some minor drawbacks to equipping our kids with smartphones. I’m not suggesting that teens shouldn’t have them at all (well…) but we need to do a better job of regulating their usage.  We need to understand the Internet is something that accesses your kids, not the other way around. It was a tremendous influence on young people even when it could only access your kids from the family computer in the non-private living room.

As adults, we were all afforded the luxury of learning to live most of our lives without all the conveniences and distractions of a smartphone.  You likely wouldn’t be the person you are today if you had. Social Media alone is reason enough to toss your teen’s smartphone into an I-Phurnace. I can’t think of a single positive example of its use by my clients that couldn’t easily have been accomplished using more traditional methods of communication. It’s all negative. And it is screwing up our kids. The guilt for this lay at our own feet, which should be in view- just beyond the smartphone we’re all staring at.

My proposal is that, with limited exceptions, all teens maintaining a 3.0 or above GPA can keep their smartphones. Everyone else gets a Jitterbug. Sure, your underachieving kids will go full-scale Prom Scene Carrie on you for a couple of days. Around day three the fires will die out and your child will emerge phoenix-like from the ashes in the form of a young person you no longer wish to repeatedly body-slam. If they still insist on giving you grief, advise them to call the ACLU. On a landline. Because you’re taking the Jitterbug.  

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