Brave New World

The meteoric rise of the smartphone is radically changing our kids’ lives by the day in every arena of life, from how they interact socially to their emotional well being. Wherever you can find a cell tower, you will find an ever-increasing number of children and teens whose lives are being impacted and sometimes defined by their smartphone.

As incredible as it may seem, children as young as two years can show signs of mental health problems due to using smartphones and tablets. It doesn’t take much. Even an hour a day, staring at the screen is enough to increase a child’s anxiety and vulnerability to depression. Staring at the screen reduces their curiosity self-control and, emotional stability.

The Multiple Problems

1. Distorted Communication

Children who spend time on social media and smartphones learn and practice what social-psychologists call deindividuated communication. In other words, communication through social media or smartphone texting gives children a sense of being absent, anonymous, and faceless, virtually unaccountable for what they are saying.

This lack of accountability leads to an increased preponderance to be extreme and aggressive in the verbal sense. The children’s shaming, mocking, and bullying is far more devastating than anything they would ever do face-to-face.

2. Parental Detachment

When technology use is not controlled, the relationship between parent and child suffers. Children and teens who average hours a day alone in their rooms obsessed with their devices are not present to interact with their parents. And even when parent and child are physically occupying the same space, the child is often unavailable.

As if that weren’t enough, the degree of trust between parent and child is often defined by how the parent controls social media and phone usage. But parents shouldn’t dupe themselves into believing that their perceived control is real. The digital landscape is replete with apps that allow teens to hide their true digital life from their parents.

3. Social Handicapping

Childhood and adolescence provide critical opportunities for developing lifelong social skills. But as the smartphone becomes the replacement for spending face time with friends, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to learn and hone those vital skills. This creates a vicious downward spiral that makes communicating via text or emoji more comfortable than face-to-face interaction further diminishing genuine social interaction.

Some experts have asserted that it’s not that the smartphone creates a nonverbal learning disability, but instead, it places everyone involved in a nonverbal disabled context. The critical dimensions of communication such as facial expression, body language, and vocal tone become invisible and hence irrelevant.

4. Creeping Loneliness

Social networking sites such as Facebook promise to be a conduit facilitating connecting with friends. But study after study has shown conclusively that social networking is producing a dislocated and lonely generation. Children and teens who visit their social-networking sites religiously but interact less frequently with their friends are unwittingly creating a detached and lonely existence for themselves.

Ironically, all of this connecting through social media is exacerbating the sense of being left out or “fomo” as it is fondly known. The sad fact is that children and teens spend less time together, and even when they do meet the activity invariably centers around their social media activities. Without posting pictures to Instagram, it’s considered as if their time spent together didn’t even happen.

5. Chronic Insomnia

Experts claim that a teen who sleeps less than seven hours at night is a teen that is sleep deprived. Recently two independent national surveys showed that if a teen is on his digital device three hours a day, he is 28 percent less likely to get seven hours sleep. Sadly these studies showed that more than twice as many teens were sleep deprived in 2015 than in 1991.

The consequences of sleep deprivation can be devastating. Without enough sleep, it is difficult to focus on school. Consequently, grades will suffer and motivation will tank along with it. Not enough sleep means slower reaction time, which increases the likeliness of being in a car accident. And when tiredness compounds with social pressure, the child or teen is more prone to depression.

6. Increasing Depression

A recent survey involving thousands of 12th graders found that teens who spend more of their time on non-screen activities are found to be happier. And the opposite was also found to be true. Those who spend more of their time on their smartphones and tablets are likelier to be lonely, anxious, and depressed.

And it has been found in recent studies that struggling with depression as a teen is generally a recipe for suffering depression as an adult. Hard to believe that the smartphone is such a critical factor in the increasing rates of depression all around us.

7. Rising Suicides

Indeed, one advantage of teens being more socially isolated and not spending as much time together is that it is less likely that they will kill someone else. However, the converse is true as well; they are more likely to kill themselves. In 2011 for the first time in quarter century suicide rates for teens surpassed homicide rates.

Girls who are more prone to depression than boys are especially vulnerable. Whereas boys gravitate more to face to face bullying, cyber-bullying is more the bullying of choice for girls. This distinction may account for the statistic that shows that from 2012 to 2015, depression for girls increased at a 250 percent greater rate than boys over that same period.

How Can You Help Your Child?

With all this heartbreaking news, it would be understandable for parents to feel helpless and hopeless, but they need not. Implement these suggestions to begin to gain control of your children’s digital lives.

  1. You need to model cell phone control: Set an example for your children of how to use and limit the use of smartphones and social media in your life.
  2. Establish digital family curfews: Ban the use of phones during the dinner hour. Designate the parents’ bedroom into the overnight charging station.
  3. Transform the discussion: Instead of instilling within your children a fear of getting caught being digitally inappropriate, focus on the benefits of online safety and healthy social life.