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The Heavy Price Parents Pay When iPhones Become Babysitters

Many of you who read our blog posts are parents, as well as educators, coaches, youth workers or employers. Today—I ask you to read closely what I’m about to say.

I want to talk to you about technology and the emotional needs of kids.

Victoria Prooday wrote, “Using technology as a ‘free babysitting service’ is, in fact, not free at all. The payment is waiting for you just around the corner. We pay with our kids’ nervous systems, with their attention, and with their ability to delay gratification. Compared to virtual reality, everyday life is boring. When kids come to the classroom they are exposed to human voices and adequate visual stimulation as opposed to being bombarded with the graphic explosions and special effects they are used to seeing on screens.

After hours of virtual reality, processing information in our classrooms becomes increasingly challenging for our kids because their brains are getting used to the high levels of stimulation that video games provide. The inability to process lower levels of stimulation leaves kids vulnerable to academic challenges. Technology can also disconnect us emotionally from our children and our families. Parental emotional availability is the main nutrient for a child’s brain. Unfortunately, we are gradually depriving our children of that nutrient.”

Too much of their life is artificial and virtual.

What Do They Need Most?

Social Emotional Learning (or S.E.L.) has become a hot topic today in schools. One reason for this, I believe, is the volume of time we all spend on screens, in a sort of virtual reality. We may be interacting with people socially on a screen, but we use different portions of our brain and don’t necessarily learn the social and emotional skills we need to succeed in life, such as reading body language, facial expressions and understanding sub-text in language. Further, because screens usually accelerate the pace at which we experience life, we begin expecting life to move faster and to be less boring. We, in fact, begin to accumulate unrealistic expectations. Consequently, we retard our social and emotional growth. We slow down our maturation.

Should we anticipate a problem, as our young become adults?

A New Normal Brings New Problems

The average young adult clicks or taps their phone 2,617 times a day. Extreme users will do so 5,427 times a day. It’s almost unbelievable. Doctors are now diagnosing hand cramps, neck cramps and thumbs that have become temporarily paralyzed. The diagnosis? Tendinitis, according to physician, Dr. Teresa Wick. The tendons connecting the muscles and bone become enflamed. It’s happening more and more.

Business solutions firm LivePerson just released the results of a poll after talking to 4,000 18 to 34-year-olds around the world to find out how much of their lives are being lived out digitally. The vast majority of Millennials and Generation Z said they’d rather talk to someone online than in person. In the United States, nearly 74 percent of respondents would rather send a text message instead of having a conversation in person. The majority of them (62 percent) would rather leave their wallet at home than their phone when going out. And a full 70 percent sleep with their phone next to them.

Now, here’s where it becomes anti-social.

That same data confirms that 41.6 percent of respondents also considered it acceptable to text while at a family dinner, and 27.7 percent thought it was fine to text during an in-person conversation. What we’re seeing is that the people right in front of us are becoming less important than those who are virtual. It is now common to “phub” others, which is snubbing a person next to us because we are on our phone.

Balancing Acts to Lead Them Well

I recommend you discuss the data above, including the quote from Victoria Prooday with your students. Remind them that your intention is not to completely eliminate devices from their lives, but to guide them as they grow into adults. Then, talk over a game plan as they attempt the following balancing acts.

1. Physical Balancing Acts with Schoolwork

Talk to them about their need to be familiar with using technology in preparing for a career, but also creating healthy limits. Get them to agree they want to be healthy physically. Talk about the bodily harm many students are suffering in their necks, their arms and their hands, due to overuse of their phones. Agree on “phone free” zones during the day when they do school work without a portable device around. During these times and places, make sure the phone isn’t even in sight.

2. Social Balancing Acts with People

Talk to them about the development of both hard skills and soft skills. This is a balance too few recent graduates have mastered. Employers are saying it’s rare to find a young job candidate who’s not only good with a screen but with real people— face to face— interacting on a team, communicating well and demonstrating empathy. The proficiency of people skills set four people apart from their colleagues in our last four hires at Growing Leaders. We invited the candidates who had better people skills, not just technical skills, for the job. Take time to model and teach these young people how to greet someone, look them in the eye, shake their hand, and ask relevant questions that show interest.

3. Personal Balancing Acts When Alone

Studies have shown anxiety and stress levels to rise when a phone is nearby, even when a student isn’t using it. Just sitting on a table within view raises our level of angst, knowing it could ping or ring any moment. Putting phones away when alone allows a student to practice mono-tasking (as opposed to multi-tasking). They can genuinely focus on what’s in front of them, or even let their mind wander in silence. Thinking and reflecting in quietness makes us healthier in a world of noise or clutter.

In short, our young people need quiet times, they need face-to-face interaction and they need boundaries to ensure that technology is their servant—not their master.


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