“I wake up in cold sweats every so often thinking, what did we bring to the world?” -Tony Fadell, former Senior Vice President at Apple
Fadell said this on the 10-year anniversary of the iPhone. He realized how smartphones had changed society, and saw their addictive qualities in his own children.
Parents of teens, preteens, and even younger children now have to navigate the waters of technology, and decide what age is the right age to have access to a smartphone. While it seems like all parents are caving into the societal pressure to hand over the technology, wise parents will stop and consider the consequences before purchasing a data plan.
An article in The Atlantic by Jean Twenge cites studies that link smartphone use to increased rates of depression and suicide in teens.
According to Twenge, “Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen (the new label for youth born between 1995 and 2005) as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.”
The studies claim that depression rates in teen boys rose 21 percent between 2012 and 2015. In teen girls, depressive symptoms rose 50 percent. At the same time, rates of teen male suicides doubled and teen female suicides tripled.
Writes Twenge, “It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.”
What about smartphones is causing this teen mental health crisis? Desiring God writer Tony Reinke spoke with an assistant principal of over 20 years, who had this insight:
“... the one thing that has changed drastically in working with teenagers for over 20 years is the dependency they have now on the instant gratification and feedback from others. How many likes do I have? How many followers? And there’s a compulsion to put something online to see how many likes I can get. And if that wasn’t enough, what does it say about me?”
Smartphones give teens front row access into the lives of others - at least the pretty, Instagram-filtered version - which causes them fall into the deadly trap of comparison.
As Reinke puts it, “Digital media force a teen and preteen into the 24-7 pressure cooker of peer approval. But it’s not just teens; all of us feel this addictive draw of our social media. Smartphones seem to influence us all…”
But pressure remains on parents to cave in and allow their children access to smartphones. Knowing the dangers they introduce in children, what should parents do?
Use discernment. It is ultimately your choice as a parent to determine what is right for your child and your family. But this is a decision that should not be made based upon what other parents are doing, or the pressure from your teen.
20-year-old author Jaquelle Crowe explained to Reinke her experience of not owning a smartphone at 18, though her friends all had them:
“It definitely fed my FOMO (fear of missing out). It fed into some insecurity. Even though my friends never made me feel weird for not having a smartphone, it was an expectation, so they were surprised when they discovered I didn’t have one. There were times when I was the outlier. And not only with friends but also with my generation at large. I’d be walking through the mall or waiting in line or stopped on the sidewalk, and I would look around, fully present and disconnected — and stare at a sea of teens glued to smartphones. I was an exception, and that felt uncomfortable.”
But despite all this, Crowe says there is value is in not having a smartphone.
“To parents, I’d say: It is worth it to have your kids wait. I’ve seen it and heard it and can attest to it since I got my own smartphone — smartphones change you. They give you overwhelming and shocking access. They zap your attention span. They are massively addictive. You can (and should!) put up safeguards, but a smartphone fundamentally changes your heart and mind. If it’s possible for teens to delay that change, I think it is a wise consideration.
“Teach your teens discipline and discernment before you entrust them with the dangers of a smartphone. Of course, smartphones are not inherently evil; they have the potential for great good. But they need to be wielded well.”
It comes down to this: Parents need to understand the risks of smartphones before allowing their children access.
Felicia Alvarez warns parents about 9 apps that are dangerous for kids. I would definitely recommend that parent familiarize themselves with these apps before handing over a new device.
Alvarez writes, “Christian parents are called to instruct their children in biblical wisdom (Deuteronomy 6:6-8) and today that includes teaching them to apply biblical wisdom to media. Teaching your children how to choose appropriate apps and use them responsibly is vitally important in our media-saturated world… As Christians, we’re not simply training children to keep them out of trouble, but so they can grow in wisdom as well.”
Carrie Dedrick is an editor of Crosswalk.com. When she is not writing or editing, she can usually be found teaching dance classes, running marathons, or reading with at least one adopted dog on her lap. Carrie and her husband Dustin are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their first baby, a daughter, in October 2017.
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