"As children grow older, parents must give them greater freedom, including greater freedom to make mistakes. "

Remove the Smart Phone, Regain the Child

As regular readers of this column already know, I am completely, one hundred percent opposed to children, including teenagers still living at home, being in possession of smart phones. No parent has ever been able to give me a logical reason why a minor should enjoy such a privilege, if enjoy is even the proper word.

The most common rationale given is “I want my child to be able to get in touch with me and vice versa.” If that is your best defense, purchase a basic cell phone from a box store and give it to your child on selective occasions. I’m referring to the sort of cell phone you possessed, as an adult, ten years ago; to wit, one that will not connect to the Internet, does not have a built-in camera, and is not text-friendly.

The evidence is mounting that for whatever reasons most likely having to do with brain development during said years, smart phones are literally addictive to children and teenagers. Adults are able to keep their smart phones in their pockets unless some necessity arises. Human beings who are not yet adults seem unable, by and large, to do so. The exception to the child/teen whose attention is disproportionately captured by a smart phone’s screen is rare.

“But John, that is how teenagers communicate with one another” is a common parental defense to which I respond, “Yes, and that is why their face-to-face communication skills are generally poor to awful.” Their eye contact is notoriously bad and when, in a face-to-face encounter, they begin feeling uncomfortable (which is often), what do they do? Right! They pull out their smart phone and begin looking at it while you are talking to them! I conclude that these devices interfere with the development of proper social skills. There is a reason why employers are increasingly identifying the social and conversational skills of job applicants as more important than college grades.

I recently spent some time with two parents and their teenage child who had a habit of taking out his cell phone and looking at it while conversation was taking place. His parents told him to put the cell phone away at least five times in fifteen minutes. They were obviously exasperated. They are intelligent people but living proof that common sense and intelligence do not go hand-in-hand.

On the positive side, I’ve recently spoken with a handful of parents who have taken their kids’ smart phones away for good. They have all testified to the sort of reaction typical of withdrawal from an addiction: tantrums, even rages, mood swings, and near-manic obsession. It takes two weeks, at least, for the addiction to run its course at which time, according to said parents, their children’s moods greatly improve (“He’s actually begun to seem like a happy kid again!”), they begin engaging in family conversation and family activities, demonstrate renewed sensitivity to other people’s feelings, and seem generally more relaxed. As yet, no parent has reported a downside.

One teenage boy eventually thanked his parents, telling them he felt a whole lot better without a smart phone. Yes, a normal childhood is a wonderful thing. Every child’s right, in fact.

Where’s your common sense these days?

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