“The average American teenager who uses a smart phone receives her first phone at age 10 and spends over 4.5 hours a day on it (excluding texting and talking). 78% of teens check their phones at least hourly and 50% report feeling ‘addicted’ to their phones. It would defy common sense to argue that this level of usage, by children whose brains are still developing, is not having at least some impact, or that the maker of such a powerful product has no role to play in helping parents to ensure it is being used optimally. It is also no secret that social media sites and applications for which the iPhone and iPad are a primary gateway are usually designed to be as addictive and time-consuming as possible, as many of their original creators have publicly acknowledged.”
Okay. So assuming social media and internet connected devices are not going to go away and completely limiting kids’ access to these devices and services isn’t a real, viable option, what do we do about this?
Obviously parents and other adults can model responsible use of personal electronics and social media. But what exactly does “responsible use” mean? How do we balance the utility of these devices with the risks, especially when we don’t really understand the risks? And how do we communicate the difference, particularly to younger kids? As these devices become more of an integral part of all parts of our lives (we use an iPad and sometimes text messages to run sound at church, from the pews, in the middle of the congregation), how do we judge when and how they should be used and when and how they shouldn’t?
I think like anything else, it’s guiding your kids into a proper use, just like alcohol or any number of things that can be misused and abused. T-totaling isn’t the answer, but parents can and should be involved in what their kids are doing online, giving access to technology, yet monitoring, limiting and even blocking the use of some mediums until a time when they’re mature enough to handle it without your interaction. Some use of Instagram or Facebook is okay, but time spent needs to be limited. 4.5 hours a day on a phone for a kid whose brain is still developing is nuts. You wouldn’t let your teenager’s boyfriend or girlfriend in a room alone with one another and yet we allow them to video each other on a phone without any parental interaction? However, it’s more than just limiting, blocking and monitoring. Parents need to give a full-orbed explanation to their kids of the conveniences of online use as well as its dangers. Just releasing them into the wild without boundaries or an understanding is foolish for a number of reasons.