Recently I stood gazing out a street-facing window of a restaurant. A couple sat at an outdoor table on the sidewalk. Both were busy interacting with their smartphones. Across the street, a man stood next to his car, doing something with his smartphone. A young woman passed by him on the sidewalk, and yes, her attention was fixed on her smartphone screen. There you go, I thought, life in 21st century America.
And it’s no wonder. Almost anything you can do on a computer you can do on a smartphone. In addition to having a phone conversation, you can check the weather forecast, trade stocks, take a personality test, read news articles, watch a sporting event, enjoy a movie, play a video game, talk to someone in Singapore (no long-distance charge), get verbal turn-by-turn directions, and literally hundreds of other benefits. And it will do some things you can’t do with a computer: for example, you can take hi-definition photos and video clips, and send them to anyone in the world.
Pretty amazing! No wonder so many people have their attention focused on those tiny screens. No wonder these devices cost as much as a desktop computer. Nearly all teenagers have them now, and no teen wants to be left out.
But when it comes to growing children, there are scary downsides. Curious and unwary children can get pornography on their smartphone. Not your daddy’s porn—I’m talking about video clips of every sex act ever imagined by human beings. One survey I saw claimed that nearly half of all high school girls have used their smartphones to send nude selfies. And social networking, which can be a handy way to stay in touch, or it can be a way to have empty digital relationships which can take the place of real-life, in-person relationships, causing stress, depression, and social isolation. Because of its effect on brain chemistry, the excitement and temporary rewards of gaming and social networking can create an addiction to these media and even disturb the natural progression of adolescent brain development. And waste time, of which teens never seem to have enough. And their internet accounts are where verbal bullies and sexual predators can prey on your child.
Yes, pretty amazing—that a technology can be so beneficial and yet so dangerous. Kind of like a car, or a gun, both of which have age requirements and involve licenses to be owned and used.
What’s a concerned, loving parent to do?
I think about this question every day, and I read every thoughtful article about this topic that comes my way. You may be interested in some of my favorites:
I don’t mean to overwhelm you, but of course there are many more articles worth reading. You can Google the areas of your concern.
Excessive screen exposure is the topic of Chapter 6 of my new book, How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain.