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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


The Problem With Many Smartphone Solutions

Smartphones have been around long enough for people to see both the benefits and consequences of such devices on young people. As our speaker team makes their way across the country this month to 45 school events, we are meeting educators, coaches and parents who mourn the addictive nature of portable devices. We now know that smartphones are as addictive as tobacco and alcohol. Many parents are conflicted about giving a cell phone to their young child, between ages of 6 and 12. Why? Parents want them to have a device for safety purposes, but they also know how quickly a kid can venture into unwanted territory with cyber-bullies, strangers, unhealthy apps and other problems. For many families, smartphones are the wrong answer—given the screen addiction problems that they can foster.

Chris Chuang is the CEO of a small tech company called Republic Wireless. When his two young boys got lost in the woods, he was conflicted as well. He knew there had to be a way to stay connected to his kids, yet not give them a smartphone at such a young age. Chris knew that cell phone companies have been trying to offer such connectivity and safety for decades now. He says we saw our first restricted-dialing kids’ phones in 2005: the Enfora TicTalk, the Firefly, and the LG Migo. They were all designed to let kids only call a few numbers, primarily their parents. Later, the industry switched to wearables and gave them tracking abilities, with kids’ smartwatches like the FilipTinitell, and LG Gizmo series.

But today, his company has designed “Relay,” a small device kids can take with them wherever they go, even outside.

When kids need to talk with parents they simply push a button. The device is connected to an app on their parents’ phone, and it enables them to communicate. But besides that, it doesn’t do much that can create an addiction for kids. It currently plays music and in the future it may include an “Alexa” type of device to answer questions.  But for now, it just keeps the features to a minimum. It allows parents and young people to stay in touch, but it won’t let anyone else call them.

Why Is This Such a Big Deal?

I write about this for one big reason. Chris Chuang’s company came up with a device that solves a problem without inviting a new problem. The parent-child connection is enabled without opening the door to social media addictions, and other negative realities of our cyber-universe.

Too often in our high-tech culture today, new devices are unleashed without much thought as to the negative impact of those devices. Silicon Valley executives mourn the addictive nature of the very tablets and phones they’ve created. They love the revenue they generate, but as parents themselves, they see how unhealthy they can become at the same time.

“Relay” appears to be a solution that solves a problem and isn’t addictive.

So how about you?

Are there challenges you face as a parent, an educator, a coach, an employer or a youth worker when it comes to your students? May I suggest some?

  • Their need for margin in the day; solitude without the ping of social media.
  • Their need to develop interpersonal skills, interacting with others face to face.
  • Their need to deepen their empathy for under-served populations.
  • Their need for confidence to attempt new projects and even risk failure.
  • Their need for peace of mind to replace and combat anxiety and depression.
  • Their need to develop boundaries on social media.
  • Their need to build disciplines in their life that will translate to a job.
  • Their need for ethics and values as they make decisions for the future.

As a new school year begins, may I challenge you to become your own version of Chris Chuang? Can you create a solution to any one of these common challenges above, without creating a new problem in the process?

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The Problem With Many Smartphone Solutions