As a lifelong educator who tries to stay informed about societal trends that threaten the well-being of students and families, I am constantly perusing scholarly articles and publications that reveal contemporary issues that affect our youth and families. I am discovering that there is a growing body of research that shows a correlation between the invention of smartphones and the sharp increase in teenage depression and suicide since 2011. In the September 2017 issue of The Atlantic magazine, Dr. Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, wrote a disturbing article entitled, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” Here is an excerpt from her article:
The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers' lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. The trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs, and small towns. Where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smartphone.”
Click here to read the full article.
A Legacy grandparent recently sent me an article in Time magazine that contained a similar warning about the effects of smartphones on kids. In the article entitled, “We Need to Talk About Kids and Smartphones,” the author quotes the results of a study of more than 500,000 adolescents nationwide that found “kids who spent three hours a day or more on smartphones or other electronic devices were 34% more likely to suffer at least one suicide-related behavior—including feeling hopeless or seriously considering suicide—than kids who used devices two hours a day or less.” Further, the same article quotes Dr. Frances Jensen, chair of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine, who stated, “what we know about the minds of tweens and teens suggests that giving a young person all-the-time access to an Internet-connected device ‘may be playing with fire.'” Please click here to read the full article.
Now, I'm no Luddite. I regularly use a smartphone, tablet, and laptop computer for personal and professional purposes. However, I recognize that the improper use of these devices can threaten my psychological and spiritual well-being. To quote the former editor of Christianity Today, Andy Crouch, “Technology is making everything easy, even the bad things.”
Anecdotally, I've noticed both public and private schools are dealing with more incidences of bullying, pornography sharing, and sexual assault since the advent of smartphones. Recently, I had a conversation with three of our high school students who serve on our anti-bullying task force. They all agreed that most every student knows how to get around internet filters and can hide their online activities from parents and school officials. That was sobering news.
So, what can Christian parents and Christian schools do to save this generation of children whose very souls are threatened by the abuses of technology? Three words come to mind—knowledge, vigilance, and limits. As parents and educators, we must know what is going on in our children's online lives. We must be on guard for fake calculator apps that hide personal photo albums. We must be aware that many teens maintain at least two Instagram accounts: the one they want you to see and their “Finstagram” or fake Instagram, the one they don't want you to see. And, we must be willing to set strict limits on the use of smartphones, e.g., prohibiting children from using their smartphones alone in their bedrooms or after a certain hour. The proverbial saying, “nothing good happens after midnight” should now be modified to “nothing good happens after midnight when it comes to children and smartphones.”
If this commentary makes you uncomfortable, that was my intention. As a covenant community, we need to have these types of frank and transparent conversations between teachers, administrators, and fellow parents. Legacy stands ready to partner with you to preserve the souls of our children. I welcome your comments and suggestions.
Legacy Christian Academy is Frisco's only Pre-K through 12 Christian school committed to educating students in a college preparatory environment balanced in academics, athletics, and fine arts–all within the context of a biblical worldview. For more information on Legacy, visit our admissions page.