Last week it was Orientation day for my 7th grader at his new Middle School. As we stood in line waiting to submit paperwork, one thing caught my attention. About 3/4th of the kids in line had their own phones and were lost deep in their digital worlds.
It was not a complete shock to me. When my son was in Elementary school, there were a handful of kids as young as 3rd graders who brought their phones and even tablets to school. They would whip it out of their bags as soon as the bell rang and show off their hidden treasure.
It was easy to see which kid had a phone. There would be a hive of kids buzzing around him/her, trying to get a glimpse of the shiny device’s screen.
I understand parents want to be in touch with their kids especially when they walk home alone. But won’t a basic flip phone without the gazillion distractions work just fine?
First of all, why does a 4th grader or even a 7th grader need a smartphone with all the latest bells and whistles included?
Are they running a startup from their backpack and need to call in for the 9'oclock department meeting or is to check when the iPhone XX is launching?
A smartphone, though small in size is an extremely powerful device. It’s a TV, a computer, a camera, a GPS, a communication tool, and a million other apps all rolled into one. You can upgrade your education, job skills and even start a business on it. Highly efficient and convenient, it is an indispensable device to any person.
That being said, its downside is exactly that. You can do so much with it that it sucks you in. You are hooked. Even as a full-grown adult, I find it extremely distracting. I catch myself often unlocking my phone at work checking up on my Medium stats notoriously.
What it is doing is unlocking the reward centers in my brain. The dopamine hit I get every time I check my stats reinforces my guilty pleasure.
It’s like the snake in the Garden of Eden, buzzing hypnotically and hissing my name -
“Eat the fruit of this Wi-Fi.”
Even when a page takes a second longer to load than usual, I start getting impatient. My brain wants to be rewarded ASAP.
So can you imagine a kid? If a 12-year-old is getting that very feeling of instant gratification at his fingertips, how mind-altering and addictive would it be to him? Of course, he would want more and more. Hello, endless Youtube videos!
Delayed gratification instead of instant gratification is vital to children if they are to develop self-control, grit and work through hardships.
The frontal lobe — the part of the brain responsible for impulse control, is not fully developed in middle school-aged children. When we expect kids to learn how to handle phone use in places like classrooms, we are setting many of them up for failure.
We blame kids for being screenagers when most of us adults with fully developed brains cannot control our own screen addictions.
So, can we truly expect kids to exercise maturity, restraint and use a phone responsibly? I doubt. My friend had to complain to the principal as a kid was constantly taking pictures of her son without his permission. Just because it was after school hours did it make it alright?
It is a big struggle to keep my 12 year old focussed on the task at hand. An ant crawling on the wall of another room can distract him! So can you imagine what would happen if I tossed a smartphone into the mix!
PewDiePie and Mr Beast’s views would skyrocket while his grades would crash.
Smartphones also have adverse effects on a child’s mental health and self-worth. Introducing a smartphone to a child is introducing them to the ugly world of social media.
A report by the ‘Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’ says the suicide rate amongst young teenage girls 10–14 years tripled from 1994 to 2014. Boys aren’t immune either but to a lesser degree.
They attributed this to increased communication channels such as texting and social media which provide the most convenient platform for bullies to ostracize and gang up on their victims under the perfect cloak of anonymity.
According to Dr. Joan Luby, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Washington University School of Medicine -
“Compared with boys, girls use social media more frequently and are more likely to experience cyberbullying, anxiety and depression.
Girls who are depressed also elicit more negative responses from their friends on social media than boys.”
And let’s talk about the social skills of kids these days. I recently went to a birthday party of a 10-year-old boy who didn’t even look up from the game he was playing on his phone.
What happened to “Hello, how are you, thank you for coming.”?
Kids might be virtually connected on Instagram, Snap Chat and Fortnite but are failing in forming genuine connections with people face to face.
When you have a smartphone you don’t need a person. If you are bored, sad or lonely, you can turn to your phone to uplift your mood. Kid’s social skills are heavily impacted.
“If a child relies on electronics to communicate, they risk weakening their people skills. Children can become detached from others’ feelings.”
-Dr. Gary Small, head of UCLA’s memory and aging research center
In 2018, France announced it is banning cell phones in school for all students age 15 and under, starting next fall. Calling it a subject of fundamental society and an issue of public health, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said-
“These days the children don’t play at break time anymore; they are just all in front of their smartphones, and from an educational point of view, that’s a problem.”
Many parents install filters and locks on their kid’s phones. But intentionally or not, kids are still exposed to the uncensored content including violence and pornographic content, etc. This, in turn, further affects their focus, concentration and can lead them down dangerous roads.
As a parent, I face a daily conundrum -‘Do I roll with the times or ignore the rolling time?’
My son is not responsible or mature enough to handle a smartphone. Just because all kids had one, it didn’t mean he too qualified for one. Would he understand my decision later when he was older or would he resent me for ruining his middle school social life?
It’s a tough call! I envy my parents. We lived in simpler times. They worried about me being on the walkman for an hour!
Each child is different and so is every family’s structure and needs. At the end of the day, parents should be aware of the positives and negatives and make an informed decision.
As I watched the kids in line, my son nudged me with a grumpy face and said- “See, all their parents gave them phones. I will be the only one without a phone in 7th grade. I will never be a part of the cool kids.”
I told my son, “I know that might suck at the moment. But you will thank me later. For now, please just be a kid.“