Is it too late to confiscate your kids’ smartphones?

I’ve referred before to the dangers posed by overuse of smartphones by children and teenagers.  Now, an article by a child psychologist reinforces the warnings of others.  It’s titled “The Tech Industry’s War on Kids:  How psychology is being used as a weapon against children“.  It’s long, but it repays your time and attention.  Here’s an excerpt.

Quietly, using screens and phones for entertainment has become the dominant activity of childhood. Younger kids spend more time engaging with entertainment screens than they do in school, and teens spend even more time playing with screens and phones than they do sleeping. The result is apparent in restaurants, the car sitting next to you at the stoplight, and even many classrooms: Attesting to the success of persuasive technology, kids are so taken with their phones and other devices that they have turned their backs to the world around them. Hiding in bedrooms on devices, or consumed by their phones in the presence of family, many children are missing out on real-life engagement with family and school — the two cornerstones of childhood that lead them to grow up happy and successful. Even during the few moments kids have away from their devices, they are often preoccupied with one thought: getting back on them.

In addition to the displacement of healthy childhood activities, persuasive technologies are pulling kids into often toxic digital environments. A too frequent experience for many is being cyberbullied, which increases their risk of skipping school and considering suicide. And there is growing recognition of the negative impact of FOMO, or the fear of missing out, as kids spend their social media lives watching a parade of peers who look to be having a great time without them, feeding their feelings of loneliness and being less than.

The combined effects of the displacement of vital childhood activities and exposure to unhealthy online environments is wrecking a generation. In her recent Atlantic article, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?,” Dr. Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, describes how long hours spent on smartphones and social media are driving teen girls in the U.S. to experience high rates of depression and suicidal behaviors.

And as the typical age when kids get their first smartphone has fallen to 10, it’s no surprise to see serious psychiatric problems — once the domain of teens — now enveloping young kids. Self-inflicted injuries, such as cutting, that are serious enough to require treatment in an emergency room, have increased dramatically in 10- to 14-year-old girls, up 19% per year since 2009.

. . .

As a child and adolescent psychologist myself, the inevitable conclusion is both embarrassing and heartbreaking. The destructive forces of psychology deployed by the tech industry are making a greater impact on kids than the positive uses of psychology by mental health providers and child advocates. Put plainly, the science of psychology is hurting kids more than helping them.

. . .

Having children of their own can change tech execs’ perspective. Tony Fadell, formerly at Apple, is considered the father of the iPad and also of much of the iPhone. He is also the founder and current CEO of Nest. “A lot of the designers and coders who were in their 20s when we were creating these things didn’t have kids. Now they have kids,” Fadell remarks, while speaking at the Design Museum in London. “And they see what’s going on, and they say, ‘Wait a second.’ And they start to rethink their design decisions.”

There’s more at the link.

That’s some seriously scary stuff, right there.  I’m forced to wonder:  if an enemy were to design a weapon to undermine, demoralize and fragment US society, destroying its internal cohesiveness, could he have done much better than the smartphone?

These concerns are precisely why I don’t use my smartphone to anything like its full potential, because even though we’re no longer children or teenagers, I’ve seen too many of my adult friends become slaves to their smartphones.  I use no social media apps on mine at all, not even Blogger;  I don’t use the phone as a Web browsing device except for urgent need;  and I frequently don’t carry it at all, preferring to leave it at home where I’m not constantly tethered to it.  If someone needs me, they can send a text or leave a voicemail message, and I’ll respond as and when I get it.  I don’t have to be at others’ beck and call all day, every day.  I’d regard that as extremely unhealthy . . . but then, I’m something of a dinosaur, I suppose.  I still value my privacy.



  1. I agree with the linked article. My 15 year old daughter when at home is pre-occupied with her smart phone. Often have to repeat questions to her because of concentration on the screen contents. She is a good student and claims connections to her friends helps her maintain her grades – maybe. That is the only reason why my wife and I allow it to continue.

    I see the cell phone psychosis all around. People in resaturants, sitting in silence as they scan their phones. Seem annoyed when the food arrives and they phone has to be put away – Crazy !

  2. That's why my phone is barely 3G and that was done under protest because the cell phone company quit supporting the old one. If you refuse to purchase a phone for your child in the first place then you do not have the distraction. And I have to question why a child under the age of 15-16 years old needs a cell phone. There were also rules in my household about phone usage at the dinner table, bed-time, classrooms and such.

  3. "I frequently don't carry it at all, preferring to leave it at home where I'm not constantly tethered to it. If someone needs me, they can send a text or leave a voicemail message, and I'll respond as and when I get it. I don't have to be at others' beck and call all day, every day. I'd regard that as extremely unhealthy . . . but then, I'm something of a dinosaur, I suppose. I still value my privacy."


    I'll go you one better: the price of the things is such that occasionally, if I'm waiting for a call, I have a second line. I'll set the first phone to transfer calls to the second number, and leave it home. The first number is work/public/occasionally shared. The phone call I'm expecting comes in, I talk, and then I can turn the thing off and remain untethered.
    I can also do it in reverse, and set the public phone to the number I'm calling, and when I call out from the private line, the number stays private.

    Even the feds can't beat this.

    That's when I bother to take a phone with me at all.

    Frequently, I have to remember to plug them both in, because I've left them home, and after a few days the batteries are dead while I've been out and about without one.

    Don't miss it a bit.

  4. One can be too connected to the rest of the world.

    One of my biggest regrets is letting my son have too much time on the computer when he was young.

  5. I also only have a flip phone. I seem to recall an old science fiction story, maybe from the fifties?, about teens in England with some device that they watched music or something on and how destructive of society it was.

  6. my husband and i have flip phones. daughter [34 years] has a phone that is like a small ipad- is that a smart phone?] but we are not constantly using them.
    i require that phones be with us at all times, specifically to be able to call police, ambulance, fire department and to be able to quickly reach each other when changes occur which affect such things as pick up time at the train station for example.
    the chief reason for constant carry is emergency possibilities.
    in spite of expense, made sure daughter had one when she stated college. a necessary safety precaution for any young girl.

  7. This isn't a new phenomenon:

    Every time a new information technology comes along, the older generation thinks that the younger one embracing it is doomed, doomed I tell you!

    Usually turns out that's not the case, but eventually, the law of averages will catch up with us, and the elders are going to be proven right. Maybe this time? Maybe next? Maybe whatever's on the cutting edge in a few thousand years…?

  8. One of the more enjoyable moments of last summer's cross country trip was in North Dakota, along US-2. Three kids (9-15?) were horrified to learn there were "no bars!" They couldn't call, IM, or Facebook with their friends back home. "They'll think we're dead!" Dad earned my undying respect when he said "Keep whining and you will be!"
    Youngest child asked waitress "When will we get coverage?" To her eternal credit the waitress said "Idaho, about 800 miles from here."
    I've packed felons off to the state prison who looked less horrified.

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