The Positive & Alarmingly Negative Impact of Smartphones on Young People

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Do you ever remember a time when there was no iPhone or Android phones? Those days are so far gone, and we just take these tech appendages for granted.

The Smartphone has revolutionized so many aspects of our lives. This is as true in developed countries, as well as in developing, or even underdeveloped countries.

We cannot deny the positive impacts of the smartphones and the ecosystem of apps and related technology that it helped create.

Positive impact of Smartphones and related technologies

Communication with friends and family.

Although their parents may be traveling or working in another country, smartphones and communication technologies such as Skype, Zoom.us, Facebook Messenger, and other related apps, make it possible for them to be in touch and communicate with each other.

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, landline phones were the only way for families to talk with each other. That, or good old fashioned letters and recorded voice messages sent by post or courier. Today, communicating with loved ones abroad is literally at the touch of a button on a screen.

Expressions of creativity and tech tools for school and work.

Take a look at the Instagram or Facebook account of a young person and you will see the different ways that he or she is expressing creativity. That may be through fashion, or through work that they do.

Some youth are also producing videos and editing photos on their phones. They are also writing personal blogs or stories about their lives or fictional characters they dreamed up.

Learning new things, accessibility of learning and information.

Through online videos, tutorials, and other online learning opportunities, young people are able to gain more knowledge about their school subjects and their world, as well as practical skills like carpentry. If they need information, they can easily access it, learn it, and share it with others.

Alarmingly Negative Impact of Smartphones

Alongside the positives, there are a lot of alarmingly negative impact of smartphones on people both young and old. But increasingly, the present generation of children, adolescents, and youth no longer remember a time when the smartphone was just the stuff of Science Fiction stories.

They are growing up with so many screens and the accompanying apps, tools, and ecosystems and they may be suffering because of it.

In September 2017, the Atlantic published an article entitled “Have Smartphones destroyed a generation?” It is an excerpt from the latest book of Jean Twenge entitled “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us.”

It is sobering, alarming, and scary. I have a 4-year old son, and he has access to a TV and to my and my wife’s smartphones. This is the world that he is living in, and as developers and manufacturers make more advances in smartphone technologies in the future, this trend will probably continue.

Jean Twenge, the author of the article above made several arguments and claims about the impact of smartphones on today’s young people. She calls youth born between 1995 and 2012 as the iGen. They were born and raised in a world with ubiquitous smartphones and related technologies.

Mental Health and Smartphone Usage

Ms. Twenge says in the article that the iGen generation is “more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. 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.”

She traces the lack of social interaction of this generation–most of their interactions are mediated by social media and other messenger apps on their phones.

While previous generations are eager to leave home and start doing what adults do such as drive a car, this generation does not care much about independence and going out.

Surprisingly, even though they have more time compared to the previous generation, they are spending that time in front of their screens–mainly on smartphones.

There is a high correlation between smartphone use and mental health issues among youth. Jean Twenge writes:

Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, such as making a suicide plan. (That’s much more than the risk related to, say, watching TV.) One piece of data that indirectly but stunningly captures kids’ growing isolation, for good and for bad: Since 2007, the homicide rate among teens has declined, but the suicide rate has increased.

What do we do then?

Families need to find a way to balance youth’s time with technology and screens and time for physical activities and develop as well-rounded individuals. Some rules may need to be in place. Parents probably need to model good behavior for their kids. Oftentimes, though, it is hard even for parents to set their phones down to have conversations and enjoy some down time with kids and family.

In our home, we don’t have a strategy to deal with this yet, but we have limited our son’s screen time to the TV in our living room. We took away his tablet. For about a week, he asked us about it. After that, he forgot about it, thankfully. We also enrolled him in kids’ sports, which will hopefully keep him engaged physically.

I don’t have suggestions for current youth just yet. But as I learn about youth and their responses to technology, I will share thoughts and practices through this blog.

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