By Reid Goldsborough
A poll of more than 1,200 U.S. parents and children by Common
Sense Media, a San Francisco nonprofit that offers educational materials on
digital media and safe technology for children, highlights a problem that's
getting increasingly old: We're raising a generation of young people addicted to their
smartphones and other digital devices.
In reporting its findings, Common Sense Media says overreliance
on portable digital technology can cause problems, including unsafe driving,
shoddy homework, and compromised family time. Multitasking while using a
smartphone can hinder your ability to focus and prevent the formation of
memories. Infrequent in-person interaction can interfere with the development
Here are some of the poll’s key findings:
- 50 percent of American
teenagers feel addicted to their smartphones (most check devices at least
every hour and feel pressured to respond immediately to messages
- American children between 8
and 12 say they spend an average of six hours a day using digital media.
- Teens between ages 13 and 18
spend nine hours a day using digital media.
- Nearly 60 percent of parents
of children between ages 12 and 18 say their kids can't give up their
- One-third of parents and
children say they argue daily about screen time.
Because of their need to connect with their peers, teens are
especially vulnerable to the instant gratification smartphones can provide
through texting and social media posting. The irony is these fleeting virtual
connections can damage your ability to connect in real life. But teens aren't
the only ones affected. The Common Sense Media poll found that while 50 percent
of children say they can't put their phones down, 27 percent of adults say the
same about themselves. An astonishing 56 percent of adults say they check their
smartphones while driving.
What to do? As with other aspects of parenting, part of the
solution lies with setting boundaries for children. This also can be said about
adult self-control, setting boundaries for our own behavior.
But it's not easy. The poll indicates half of parents and
one-third of teens say they "very often" or "occasionally"
try to cut down on the amount of time they spend with their devices.
Completely banning portable digital technology isn't a practical
solution. Despite the problems, the upsides of the technology are too great. We
just need better balance.
Common Sense Media offers these specific suggestions:
- Talk about it. Have
in-person discussions with your family about the role different media play
in our lives. Lessons might not be learned instantly, but most children
want to do the right thing.
- Delve deep. Help kids
understand the importance of concentration and delayed gratification.
Dealing with boredom is an important life skill, no matter what people do
in life. Focusing helps with homework, friendship-building, and driving as
well as being a surgeon, roofer, or homemaker.
- Create limits. Declare
tech-free zones and times. For instance, when at the dinner table, tell
children their phones have to stay in their pockets. Create an honor
system where phones are used when doing homework only if the messaging is
homework related. Prohibit phone use after a certain time, such as 9 or 10
p.m., which has the added benefit of facilitating sleep.
- Set a good example. Never
text while driving, which today is as much a contributor to car accidents
as alcohol. Follow the law in your state or community about handheld voice
talking while driving.
- Seek outside help when
appropriate. Sometimes children (and adults) become deeply dependent on
digital technology in a way that harms their overall lives, and they are
unable to change on their own. These days, many teachers, school
counselors, clergy, and mental health professionals have experience
helping others find a good balance here.
—Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the
book Straight Talk About the Information
Superhighway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.reidgold.com.