There are few struggles in parenting that have plagued me more than the topic of smartphone use. For those with kids younger than my own, I have some hard-earned parental wisdom: delay and restrict smartphone use for as long as possible. Because once that genie’s out of the bottle, it’s really hard to put her back.
Are smartphones destroying our kids?
My daughter had relatively unrestricted access to a smartphone and social media accounts long before Dr. Jean Twenge’s story Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? appeared in the September 2017 issue of The Atlantic.
If you’re unfamiliar with Twenge’s research, here’s a quick summary: Twenge studies generational differences, and noticed that in 2012, there was an abrupt shift in adolescent behaviour and emotional states. That same year, the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent. By 2017, three of four American teens had smartphones. As smartphone use shot up, adolescent well-being plummeted.
She argues that while teens are safer physically, the post-millennial generation is “on the brink of the worst mental health crisis in decades.”
There are many who disagree with Twenge’s siren call. Dr. Sarah Rose Cavanagh, in her column for Psychology Today, argued Twenge cherry picked her data, that her research showed mere associations vs correlations.
Similarly, Elizabeth Nolan Brown on BuzzFeed called bullshit on Twenge’s theory citing that suicide rates have fallen dramatically since the 1990s. So has the use of alcohol, smoking, car accidents and teenage pregnancies. She writes, “the kids, by almost all measures, are more than alright.”
In Nature, an international journal of science, author Candice Odgers reports that smartphones are bad only for some kids, not all. Online activity, the author argues, is only reflecting and potentially worsening existing vulnerabilities.
So, what’s a parent to do?
I’m not a scientist, but here’s what I know for sure: My daughter was a Snapchat fanatic by the age of 13 with thousands upon thousands of snaps under her belt. She seemed fine. Until she developed clinical depression.