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Smartphones and Your Family: Sound the Alarm, but Quietly

This week has brought about a lot of attention toward the role of smartphones in destroying a generation.

Whether the “generation” refers to that of children or their parents, the raid on the power of smartphones is fueled by the most sustainable and potent of energy sources–parent anxiety. Truly, its power is unmatched in its ability to spread faster than the wildfires of the West Coast, and its effect on those of us raising youth, while immediate, is erratic.

First, The Atlantic featured Jean Twenge’s Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? Based on research for her book, iGen, Twenge discusses the implications of devices on a range of tween/teen states of mental health.

Then, JSTOR Daily followed up with a response that Yes, Smartphones are Destroying a Generation, But Not of Kids. In this response, author Alexandra Samuel focuses on the wide range of complexities surrounding families in a digital age, and she points directly to parents and the increasing level of distraction afforded to parents who use smartphones.

At the heart of this tension, I believe, in our coming to terms with the pervasive role of technology in our most personal of relationships–those with our children. Samuel’s review is a bit like acupuncture to our technological consciousness–her arguments pierce at the role of adults as mentors and models for conscientious connectivity. As Samuel notes, the ways in which adults, or parents, are using smartphones highlights increasing levels of disengagement from our children. And, she compassionately offers, there are times when parents need a distraction from the all encompassing act of parenting.

Adolescence, and the emotional journey that is inherently part of development, is wrought with dramatic shifts in elevation–of mood, energy, patience–for both youth and their families. Social media and the ease of reaching for smartphones offer temporary reprieve from the emotional intensity. However, with this understanding, as Twenge and Samuel both argue, comes the awareness that our actions carry consequences.

As youth and the adults raising them return to the rhythm and responsibilities of the school year, these articles act as a guidepost for all involved in raising and supporting children in a digital world.

As our youth look to us (sometimes in hopes that we don’t notice they’re looking) for guidance, it’s critical to be aware of the rationale behind our own digital escapes:

Are we in need of respite? Are we bored? Are we in an emotional state and smartphones offer an escape? Are we thinking of work or other commitments while our youth need our exclusive focus?

As parents, asking ourselves tough questions such as these will allow us to have more compassion and integrity when we ask our children to consider their digital behaviors.

Read more from Childhood Education Specialist, Amy Howell: