A mother in California seeks her pastor’s opinion on allowing her 15-year-old son to have a smartphone. The boy claims that if he can’t use social media, he will have no friends. Mom is skeptical concerning the claim and afraid of other internet experiences the youngster might be drawn to if he has a smartphone.
The pastor tells Mom that her son needs to learn to navigate the realities of the internet and learn to use a smartphone responsibly before he goes off to college. Three years! The Doomsday Clock is ticking!
“Help me out here,” Mom asks me.
With all due respect for the pastor, here is the shortlist of “realities” concerning smartphones and teenagers:
REALITY: Smartphone use by teens coincides with a dramatic increase in adolescent mental health problems including depression, anxiety and suicide.
REALITY: The addictive element of smartphone use has been verified by several researchers and supported by a preponderance of anecdotal evidence.
REALITY: Teenage boys are notorious for using smartphones and other screen-based devices to access pornography.
REALITY: Teens quickly learn to circumvent smartphone controls installed by their parents. Don’t kid yourself.
REALITY: Teen girls often employ social media to construct alternative identities and personal soap operas that are destructive to proper socialization and adjustment.
REALITY: There is no compelling evidence to the effect that teens without smartphones are at some form of risk — socially, emotionally, cognitively. In fact, the term “responsible smartphone use by a teenager” is not an oxymoron only because a small minority of teens do happen to use smartphones in a completely responsible manner. Repeat, a small minority.
REALITY: I am personally acquainted with teenagers who do not have smartphones or tablets. Said teens are, without exception, personable, well-adjusted, happy and have plenty of friends. In short, they are normal. The idea that an otherwise well-adjusted teen is going to have no friends if he doesn’t have a smartphone is propaganda.
REALITY: Many of the teens I have met who have smartphones do not act like normal human beings. They don’t converse, for example. They mumble. They don’t look people in the eye. They have their smartphones in their hands at almost all times like they are part of their bodies. While one attempts to engage them in conversation, they are snatching looks at their devices and even texting.
REALITY: Over the last 10 years, hundreds of parents have shared horror stories of well-adjusted, trustworthy kids who, a year or so after obtaining smartphones, were no longer trustworthy and in many cases had developed significant mental health and behavioral issues.
You think you can throw the dice and roll snake eyes? Best of luck to you.
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.