As the evidence continues to grow that youth and mobile devices are a toxic combination, parents are increasingly being challenged in their decisions regarding tech usage for their offspring. Although youth continue to have access to mobile devices at younger ages, it is becoming clear that this poses numerous risks in regards to healthy physical, psychological, social, and spiritual development.
Because of this, a countermovement is emerging centered on not giving mobile devices to youth until they graduate high school. But as parents work to stem the tide of peer pressure in making these countercultural decisions, it is becoming clear that fellow youth are not the only deterrents to this healthy option.
Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend whose daughter is one of the few teens without a mobile device getting ready to start high school. Like a number of conversations before, she was bemoaning the fact that although she felt that withholding the phone was the healthiest option, a number of factors, orchestrated by adults in various positions, were making this decision very challenging. In no particular order, the following are 10 ways in which this is occurring.
- The sharp decline in landline usage is changing the landscape in more ways than one. When it comes to parents hosting youth gatherings, it is rendering those youth without mobile devices in an awkward situation. Unlike the landline, which holds no personal information, youth not only feel uncomfortable asking peers to use their phone to call home, but also feel strange asking other parents to do the same, for fear of accidentally infringing on an adult’s sense of privacy.
- Related to the first issue, parents of previous generations believed that they were responsible for facilitating communication between visiting youth and their parents. But now that many adults take it for granted that youth have their own mobile devices, it is assumed that communication between parent and child will automatically occur when needed. The problem is that for youth who don’t have mobile devices, it places the awkward responsibility on them, not the adults in charge, to facilitate communication when needed.
- There was a time and place (not that long ago) when practices and events had a set time and place, especially for sports. Parents understood that except in extenuating circumstances, practices would begin and end as scheduled. But now, as many adults embrace the “on the fly” mentality, parents are left feeling that they and their youth have to be “on call” in case of a last minute change in plans.
- One of the most popular gifts every year at Christmas time are electronic devices, and a good percentage of these are bought for youth. But to many parents chagrin, it is often grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other family members who are purchasing all sorts of electronic devices for youth without asking permission first. Over the years, I have had many parents tell me that more than even their kid’s friends, it is the grandparents who are making it most difficult to sustain good tech decisions.
- As teachers continue to assign more and more assignments online, parents regularly find themselves in a difficult situation. Very often, in trying to limit computer usage for health reasons, or in situations of punishment because of previous inappropriate usage, kids are telling their parents that they have to be on their devices to finish schoolwork (which may be true). This often creates conflict between parents trying to make the right decisions and teens indicating that they are too, even if being on the computers (for homework) leads to increased distraction and illicit activities.
- Somewhere along the way, the convenience of mobile devices began to sway teachers in making decisions that contradicted healthy tech usage. Beyond even the excessive use of screens for “educational purposes,” teachers of even middle school students are increasingly asking students to pull their phones out, and use them for classwork and assignments. The problem is that if you are the “odd ball” out that doesn’t have a phone, you are potentially left with not only feeling embarrassed in front of your peers, but also your teacher (even if nothing is said).
- Asking students to use their personal mobile devices during class is bad enough. But when teachers are routinely texting assignments to underage students at various points throughout the afternoon and evening, the blurred boundaries between adult and youth, and work and play (or rest), suddenly pose a real problem. Frequently in the last few years, exasperated parents and students have come to me noting the obvious dilemma this poses, including disorganization and poor modeling of boundaries that are being displayed.
- There is nothing wrong with an occasional electronic game being played to pass the time. But when extended family members hand over their mobile devices at a moment’s notice to our kids, and for long periods of time, it inadvertently supports the very habits we are trying to break (or prevent altogether). What may start as a benign practice is often easily abused by youth who simply want to get an electronic fix anyway possible, and sense that extended family members provide the easiest access.
- As youth move from talking on the phone to texting to now using various apps (e.g., Snapchat, Instagram) for most communication, adults are slowly doing the same thing. Recently, it was noted by a friend that in the sales’ world, the practice of having conversations and emailing is quickly giving way to texting and other immediate, flexible forms of communication. Although this may be the going trend, and other methods of communication are simply neglected, it forces parents into feeling that their youth must have all communication options at hand, even if it poses obvious risks.
- Finally, as so many adults, including other parents, just accept the going trends regarding tech usage even when it defies what is good for youth, it makes it harder on all adults to advocate and maintain decisions based on best practice. “Parent pressure” is a real commodity, and as many parents reluctantly resign to allow immersive technology usage in their homes, they are only making it harder on all parents to make decisions based on science and values.
Ultimately, if we as a culture are going to truly teach our youth to use tech wisely, it must start from us as parents. We can talk to our youth all day about making good decisions and supporting healthy practices, but the reality is that we have to make sure that what we say and do is consistent. Otherwise, our kids are going to understand what is “really being said” and meanwhile, we might unintentionally undermine those parents trying really hard to encourage healthy development. Whether we like it or not, it really does take a village to raise a child, or a village to make it really difficult to do so.