I recently saw a job ad with the following “skill” requirement listed:

“must have the ability to be off phone for more than 10 consecutive seconds”

I suppose that made a strong point to potential applicants, or maybe it was related to issues with past employees… It was a position that would require driving and moving stuff.

The ad made me think of a recent article, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?.  In spite of the alarmist title, I still read it.  The article was an adaptation from a new book by Dr. Jean Twenge.  Soon after that article was posted on The Atlantic, I saw a few responses and articles dismissing the claims made by the author/researcher.  As I thought more about this topic, I decided to listen to the 50 min. segment from the BBC:  “Are Smartphones Harming Teenagers?”.  I thought the panel discussion was quite good and it included Dr. Jean Twenge.  This is the list of the participants:

Dr. Jean Twenge – Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University

Amy Orben – College Lecturer in Experimental Psychology at The Queen’s College, Oxford University

Tanya Goodin – Founder of the digital detox consultancy Time to Log Off, and author of ‘Off’

There were also two teenagers participating in the discussion as well.

It took me a few “sittings” to get through it, but I made a few notes of points from the discussion that made me ponder and reflect.  Here are a few that I thought were key:

  • it is important to consider what is on the phone, not necessarily the phone itself
  • if teenagers are spending approx. 6 – 8 hours of leisure time on their phones/screens, what does that “crowd out” of their lives?
  • social media/online time is very diverse/complicated — important for research to consider the “3 C’s”:  content, context, and connection
  • software is designed to be “sticky”, so how do we moderate effectively?
  • suggestion that more evidence is needed, but research always lags behind real world experience
  • should we do nothing then? What is the downside of doing nothing at all? “Guinea pig” generation?
  • differentiate study of the different social media platforms?

It was good to hear the input and insights from the two teenagers.  I also noted that they both attended schools that did not allow cell phones in class.  They also both reported that their own phone/screen use was reasonable and manageable.  They also didn’t think it was necessary for younger children to have smartphones in response to the finding that the average age of having a phone in the UK was 9.

It is a complex area to study but I find it hard to dismiss the new data and possible trends.  It is difficult not to have concern about the possible impacts on independence and mental health. The decrease in sleep at night is enough to concern me.  There seems to be multiple sources of stress now in the lives of teens and young adults.  I think we need to care about how smartphone access and use adds to stress and anxiety.  Both youth and adults have a role in getting smarter about moderation.  I still see my 20+ year olds struggling at times with the use of their devices and screens in practical ways instead of excessive ways.  It takes work and self-discipline for sure.

Dr. Twenge’s research pointed to some positive trends for teens as well.  I am now following her on Twitter and keeping an open mind about this.  My kids are grown up, but it is an area that I still care about.  I also recently read the article, In Praise of Mediocre Kids.  I thought the article spoke to valid pressures in the lives of children as well.  It doesn’t mention smartphones or social media, but I think technology has increased how much parents compare the “successes” of their kids and families to others.  I am not sure “mediocre” was the best word for the title — what about just well-grounded kids, or kids just doing their thing…?  Where do things start to get off track?

My thoughts as an “old” parent…