A recent study from the Pew Research Center reports that 73 percent of teens have access to a smartphone. In 2011, this number was only 23 percent, indicating a 50 percentage-point increase in the last four years. With such a dramatic increase, unforeseen consequences are sure to exist. I did some research to find out what those consequences might be — and they are startling.
My conclusion is that this smartphone trend is dangerous. Your teenager (under 18) should not have access to a smartphone. But wait — this isn’t just another one of those technophobic articles that bombard readers with worst-case scenarios about children cheating in class, circumventing firewalls and posting explicit images on Facebook. Instead, I want to focus on two of the many positive environments that are preserved by setting limits on this technology.
The first (and most important) environment preserved involves the process of forming and sustaining meaningful relationships. Building a relationship requires the ability to empathize, or identify, with others. Smartphones have been proved an obstacle to developing empathy. In fact, UCLA psychologist Patricia Greenfield made the following observation about smartphones and relationships: "The ... danger of superficiality applies. We evolved as human beings for face-to-face interaction. As more and more interaction becomes virtual, we could lose qualities like empathy that are probably stimulated by face-to-face interaction."
In addition, a study published last year reports that conversations held in the absence of a smartphone are “significantly superior” because of “higher levels of empathetic concern” demonstrated when compared with conversations where one is accessible. By setting smartphones on the other side of the boundary, you are preserving the environment needed for your child to develop empathy and social maturity.
The second environment preserved involves time. Time is precious. That’s probably the biggest reason parents feel frustrated when they see their teenagers wasting time, which becomes a lot easier with a smartphone accessible. You may rationalize that your teen is mature enough to use a smartphone for its calling and texting ability only. Besides, not many teenagers would use their smartphones for much else, right? Actually, Pew published a study last April reporting that 91 percent of smartphone-using teens go online at least daily, and 24 percent say they are online “almost constantly.” That’s a lot of time online. Consider how that time could be spent in other, meaningful ways.
I remember once speaking to a Danish mother and her teenage son. As we spoke, the son commented, “You qualify to be a Dane as much as I do. I actually spend more time online than I do in Denmark!” What I haven’t mentioned is that I had previously spoken with his mother about the difficulties that had arisen in their relationship due to the amount of time he spent online and not with his mother.
Another thing to consider is that the Internet isn’t your only threat. Modern smartphone-wielding teenagers also have their pockets pinging with social media updates and emails. So how do you protect your child’s productivity? Consider not buying him a smartphone.
Smartphones are not bad. Like automobiles, they are useful and have significantly improved the quality of our lives. However, we don’t let our 12-year-olds get behind the wheel because they are not developed enough to judge situations properly. This same danger exists in smartphones, but it is not readily acknowledged. Why? Because the danger they present is not physical or immediate; instead, it is psychological and corrosive. Give your teenager the environment he needs to experience full, human development. Don’t let him lose his identity in a silicone prison.
Brady Eisert is currently studying computer science at Brigham Young University.