How much time do your children spend on their smartphones? How is it affecting their attention spans, their interaction with friends and family, their mental health? Two large Apple shareholders–an activist hedge fund and the California State Teachers Retirement System– have written a letter to Apple asking it to focus on this important issue by developing software that would help parents control and limit phone use more easily and to study the impact of overuse on mental health.
As noted in a recent Quartz article about this issue found here, the letter cites extensive research on the impact that technology has on kids, including:
*A survey by the Center on Media and Child Health and the University of Alberta that found 75% of more than 2,300 teachers say students’ ability to focus on educational tasks has decreased;
*Research showing that US teens who spend five hours or more a day on electronic devices are 71% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide than those who spend less than one hour;
*Kids who overuse technology get less sleep;
*When children detox at a device-free camp, they perform better than a control group on tests of empathy;
*A survey from the American Psychological Association of more than 3,500 American parents found that 58% say they worry about the influence of social media on their child’s physical and mental health, and 48% recount that regulating their child’s screen time is a “constant battle”
What can parents do while waiting for an Apple fix, if one is even coming? First thing we have to do is pay attention to this as an issue. As we get lost in our own smartphones it is easy to lose track of how much time our children are spending on theirs. Let’s start with the little things: are devices down for dinner? Make a conscious effort to insist that everyone, including you, enjoy dinner with the phones in another room. And if you are already making excuses as to why you can’t do that, know that you are part of the problem. Check out #DeviceFreeDinner at Commonsensemedia.org for help.
Next: Do you know how much time your children spend on their smartphones? The national stats are staggering, but take the time to get a sense of how your children’s usage compares to the national averages. Be sure to count the time spent surfing the web or on social media while doing screen work. If the number of hours is alarming, start making a plan NOW to engage your son and/or daughter in reducing the time spent on the phone. You can set limits, just as you do with video games!
Some easy(ish) fixes: Keep the phone out of their bedrooms overnight. This will promote a healthier sleep pattern and lower the risk of eye strain. Also, if your children are just starting to venture into the world of social media via Facebook, Instagram, etc., make an account for yourself and insist that they friend you or let you follow them. This is a much easier discussion to have if you make it a condition of allowing them an account. Now parents, your role in this deal is not to make comments on everything you see, and even if you see something that you have to say something about, be sure to do it in a thoughtful, not scolding parent way.
One last thing, and we can’t say it enough: Get smart on all the latest apps and sites that your kids talk about. Get your head out of the sand and figure out how they work. Not paying attention because you are intimidated by the technology is NO excuse. Get a young friend or coworker to teach you. Seriously. There is too much crazy stuff out there available to your kids for you to feel comfortable ignoring it all. Don’t be an ostrich!!!