Are cell phone bad for our kids?

The data seems to show and indicate that there may be a connection, but there are a lot of factors that can make a teen, or an adult for that matter, more predisposed to feeling depressed or anxious.

iuri melo
iuri melo

Hello there you awesome and incredible human. I'm happy you're here reading or listening to this short podcast.

I'm grateful that you would take the time to invest in your perspective and perhaps in learning a little bit more about how to help our amazing children, or grandchildren, or neighbor children... your influence matters.

You have valuable experience and things to say, and I for one, want to help you to say those things in ways that are effective and that will promote loyalty, confidence, and an open mind and heart... because if everytime we speak to our children, we come out with guns a blazing, we end up inviting and promoting resistance, fear, defensiveness, and then we lose some of our effectiveness, and honestly we become an unsafe place for them.

So remember to speak and reason with your children by persuasion, patience and long-suffering. Whenever possible, avoid any coercion, manipulation, or stark confrontation. Instead act by gentle solicitation and by respectful enticement.

Always act with unfailing respect for the freedom and independence that you and your children possess, and i believe that as you employ these profound principles, that your outcomes will be better in the long run, and your relationships and position with your children will remain one of confidence and openness.

My hope today is to simply give you an update and to present to you some of the data and research about cell phones, and their impact on the wellness and mental health of our children.

As I present this to you, I want you to know that I'm hopeful and confident that our children will indeed find a way to deal with the negative impacts that cell phones have had and are having in their lives, in part because, this problem is now on their lap, and they will have to figure out how to live with the reality that they are facing.

Alright, let's get started.

The brief answer to the question whether "cell phones are harmful to our children" is YES and NO!

Today I just want to show why, and more importantly some things that they can do, and that you can do, to intervene and help your children navigate this tool that is constantly in their hands and pockets.

My hope is that they'll be able to manage it, instead of being managed by it.

So first let me take a moment and just present some of the data and evidence about the impact that cell phones and social media are having on our children.

  1. The number of teens with clinical levels of depression doubled between 2011 and 2020
  2. The suicide rate for teens nearly doubled between 2007 and 2019, and for teens aged 10-14 tripled and nearly quadrupled for teen girls
  3. Teens report feeling more unhappy, more dissatisfied with life, and more lonely and isolated from others, and all of these reports by teens seemed to shoot upwards after 2012.

So how does this connect with cell phones... or is there a link between cell phone ownership and these feelings and attitudes that teens are talking about and reporting throughout the country and the world?

  1. Smartphone ownership started in 2007 with the introduction of the iphone. At the end of 2012 and 2013, 50% of the population had a phone. By 2009 only half the teens were using social media, by 2012, 3 out of 4 were using it. By today, 9 out of 10 teens have cell phones with more who have access to one.
  2. As cell phone ownership and digital media use have risen, and there appears to be a connection here, so have the rates of depression, anxiety, dissatisfaction with life, and loneliness. Btw, this evidence isn't happening just in America... this isn't a US problem, it's happening throughout most of the countries in the world.

Can I stop for a moment and make a quick statement here... It's very hard to completely prove that one thing is causing another.

The data seems to show and indicate that there may be a connection, but there are a lot of factors that can make a teen, or an adult for that matter, more predisposed to feeling depressed or anxious... things like, genetic factors, events and circumstances in their life, loss, grief, health, trauma, poverty, bullying, and of course our own psychology, how we interpret and explain the events of our lives.

So, let's put our heads together and figure out how and why this is happening? Here is some of that research and some of my own thoughts.

But first let me start by telling you a super short story. About a year ago, I took about 400 teens on a 3 day camping and hiking trip. We're talking teens here... it actually was one of the coolest things I've ever done.

No cell phones were allowed on that trip.

Every night we would get together and do a huge dinner, you can imagine how much food was needed to satiate those amazing teens.

I remember one afternoon walking through the woods and onto this clearing, over to where these teens were assembling to have dinner, and the amount of chatter, silliness, and laughter in the air was just electric and fun.

Compare that with a 9 hour car drive that I just recently did with a car full of teens.

You could literally hear a pin drop in that car, as each and every teen was completely absorbed in their phone, on netflix, with earpods on, playing a game, on insta, snap, youtube, or whatever... everyone in their own little world, completely absorbed in these incredible devices that are simply remarkable.

One of these researchers talks about frequently arriving early to give a lecture at her college only to find a room of 30+ students sitting together in complete silence, all of them absorbed in their smartphones, afraid to speak or to be heard by their classmates.

So to me, it's obvious why some of our children say that they are feeling more isolated, less connected, less confident, more socially anxious.

Sherry Turkle who is one of these researchers says it best as she describes what smart phones have done to us, she says... "we are forever elsewhere." think of it.

When you are in your phone, that is exactly where you are.

Just like those college students in the classroom, or even you at home, or the teens who were in my car... their bodies were there, but their minds, their attention, their focus, was elsewhere.

I always tell people, the quickest way for you to be miserable right here, and right now, is for you to wish to be somewhere else, or to mentally be elsewhere.

Ok... so here we are. Now what do we do?

I'm telling you this, not because I'm feeling hopeless or negative about what is going on, but because I want to give you some tools, some ideas, and perhaps some objectives that you could help your child with, so that they can manage to learn this challenge that is before them.

Because even if your child decides to be more interactive, more engaged, and to be where their feet are, they're still going to be trying to chat, connect with, and have fun with a bunch of other teens, who themselves are locked in to an eternal wave of entertainment that is 100% accessible, 100% of the time.

But we can only begin from where we are, and use what we have, and do what we can. So here are some tips that you can share with your children, to ensure that their phone doesn't become a source of toxicity, loneliness, and social awkwardness.

  1. Help them, facilitate, and encourage them to commit to being more socially engaged and connected with others. Look, i've said it here a million times, the greatest predictor of long and short-term happiness is quality relationships. Whether that is in your home, with their siblings, with family, with friends, with coaches, with teachers, with other significant people in their life... Do what you can to encourage them to place themselves in social situations, where friendships can spark, and relationships grow. Encourage them to be involved in sports, work, activities, clubs, churches, and other places where they can be social, and where they can develop and gain some confidence in their social skills. For some this will be easier, for others you'll have to patiently and lovingly help them to stop hiding behind their insecurities, or what they feel may be their shyness, or social awkwardness. Look, I don't care how quickly they get there... we just want to help them to travel in that direction, and little by little be and create the kinds of friendships that will help them to be mentally healthier, happier, and more successful in their relationships and life.
  2. Help them, facilitate, and encourage them to commit to being where their feet are. Btw, we must lead and model what we hope this can be like for them. Remember that quote that I shared with you above? Basically that "we are forever elsewhere," well parents, it's time for you take a look in, and do the work yourselves. We can't be forever elsewhere and be happy here. I've literally looked at kids phones, and their messages, and while they were at dates with other people, they were texting and snapping other people... this is being "elsewhere" and being ‘elsewhere' is the enemy of being ‘here', engaged, connected, having fun, and being happier in this space. So today, you yourself make a commitment to being where your feet are, and let's model that for our children. Just be where your feet are. Turn off the phone, the notifications, the bells, the chimes, the vibrations, learn to turn them off when you are at the dinner table, in a classroom, in a hallway, in a car with other people, at a game, on a date with your significant other, and help your child be where they are by placing reasonable restriction or ‘house rules' to protect and nurture the relationships that matter.
  3. Help them, facilitate, and encourage your children to build their own fun, their own adventure, memories, and their own skills. Watching, and ‘liking' other people's adventures, memories, and cool things that they're doing, is not the same as doing those things yourself... not even close! Gently and patiently set rules and restrictions so that instead of watching videos of other people playing rocket league, help them to go play it themselves! Help your children shift from watching and liking people skateboarding, rock climb, playing the guitar, mountain biking, do backflips and tricks, or hike, or whatever else, and instead help them to go and do those things themselves. There is no confidence gained, skill earned, or achievement felt by watching and liking something. They ultimately have to engage in the process, or forever be a spectator to other people living their lives. Yes, they can learn from you tube, or watch other people do cool things as a way to enhance their own education and skills, but help them to make that transition.
  4. Help them, facilitate, and encourage your children to use their phone as an life-enhancement, not a life-detractor or life-distractor. Look, I have a cell phone too, and I use it for lots of reasons like you. I use it for entertainment, education, work, connection, to enhance my spirituality, to read, etc. Once again parents, it starts with us... we need to lead, we need to model this behavior ourselves. Please just know that I'm your friend here, i'm certainly not here to condemn or criticize you as a parent, but I do want to raise your own awareness, so that we can present a message that is congruent with our own behavior as best as we can. Help them to use their phone together with other people, as a social instigator, instead of a social replacement. Help them to find tools on their phone that can enhance their education, their social engagement, their optimism, their spiritual life, their interests. Help them to use their phones as a mental tool, and as a way to capture and save memories. Help them to recognize the most important parts of their life, which by the way, are their relationships, their ability to carve out an awesome character, their efforts to build their own skills and find ways to contribute to the world around them... they have to contribute, and to do things that are meaningful, instead of constantly bathing themselves in meaninglessness. Entertainment is fine, but that's the dessert, it's not the main course.
  5. Help them, facilitate, and encourage your children to place some limits or screen time on their phone. You may have to step in and make this happen yourself, but definitely encourage them to do this themselves. Look, they may need a little help here. Create a little contract with them, and create some house rules that will make this process a little more easy, because there is no doubt that these phones are incredibly habit forming! I'll give you four reasons why. In the book "Atomic Habits" the author tells you 4 things that you must do to create long-lasting habits. If you've listened to my podcast about creating good habits, or breaking bad ones, you'll know what they are? 1)Make the new habit attractive. Cell phones are attractive, sleek, they're a symbol, we want to have the new ones. Very attractive. 2)Make the new habit obvious. Could phones be any more obvious? They never leave our person. They're in our hands, in our pockets, on our desks, in our beds, in the bathroom, in the cars, they are obvious everywhere, plus the vibrate, ping, notify, ring... dude... it is the ultimate obvious device. 3)Make the habit easy. Phones are easy, and they make a lot of things easy. Wanna binge a complete show? Done. Want to be entertained for 9 hours on a car drive? Easy. Wanna feel better and laugh? Easy. You don't have to do anything, the phone does it for you in the easiest way possible. And finally 4) Make the habit pleasurable. Is your phone satisfying, fun, entertaining, relaxing, etc, yeah... you know what i'm getting at. You've got yourself a habit, in fact most of the world does. So, I'm not asking you or your child to quit cold turkey, what I'm asking you to do is to help your child manage it, cause if they don't, it will manage them. 4, 5, 6, 8 hours of screen time a day... you are getting managed. Time to take control of your life a little bit, set some screen time rules and goals for yourself, and help your children as well, get on top of their own life.

Let me finish by telling you this short story.

"A mother came to Ghandi and said, "please, tell my son to stop eating sugar." To that Gandhi responded and said, "bring him back in two weeks." Well, the mother left a little annoyed, but did as he said and brought the child back in two weeks.

Gandhi took the child and said to them, "stop eating sugar." The mom asked Ghandi, "why didn't you tell him that two weeks ago?" to which Ghandi responded "well, two weeks ago, I was eating sugar."

You get the idea. We have to lead. We have to model. We ourselves have to become congruent with the message we are attempting to instill in our children.

Remember the principles that I shared with you up above, about presenting this in a persuasive and intelligent manner, with a kind, loyal, and helpful demeanor.

People are saying that the worsening mental health of teens is the crisis of our generation.

They didn't start it, but they are the ones that are going to have to help them solve it, and more importantly, we must model and encourage them to deal with this in an honorable and courageous way.

I believe that they will come up with solutions that can turn this into a strength, instead of a national crisis.

Best of luck to you, and may you become a source of strength, wisdom, and stand as an example of how to use your phone in appropriate and enhancing ways.

Let us know how it goes?