Parents have phone responsibilities

By Joe Rector

Don’t get me wrong; I have no love whatsoever for Florida Governor Ron Desantis. However, I like his ideas on social media: no person under 14 may create a social media account. His idea would further require parental consent to set up an account for children ages 14 and 15. It’s years too late, but I like that adults are beginning to recognize the disastrous effects that social media has had on young people.

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s book “The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness” discusses the harm that social media has caused on children since the development of smartphones. Problems include the isolation of children, their inability to communicate in real world situations, troubles in dealing with other people, and, worst of all, the lack of skills needed to play.

Most children, especially teens, freak out if they don’t have their phones on them. They stay in touch with friends over those electronic devices. They often sit together in total silence. Instead of talking, they text each other. Their messages are short and filled with letters that stand for words. Parents don’t have a clue as to what the letters mean. Adults often send children away with permission to play games on their phones.

What children find online can be disturbing, depressing and deviant material. Other youngsters are the victims of online bullying. Too many children come away from their times online with a belief that the world is a terrible place and that life might not be worth living. Haidt says childhood suicide rates have increased by 50% since the introduction of cell phones.

I realize that older children need a phone in this modern world. Let’s allow them to have that phone, but make it a flip phone with no access to the internet. At the same time, school is no place for phones. Yes, I know exceptions to this statement, such as when phones are used for math. Otherwise, students can use school computers for research under the supervision of teachers.

The positives of removing cell phones from children are numerous. The fretting over missing a text message will end. Instead, perhaps teens can find the message senders and have a face-to-face conversation. Attention spans might increase if phones aren’t constantly present. Best of all, the time spent viewing video clips or reading inane messages on social media sites might become time devoted to meeting with friends, playing outside, joining a sports team or learning to play a musical instrument.

I hold little hope for change as far as phones are concerned. I feel the same about video games. Our children seem destined to experience continued isolation. They will have virtual friends but won’t know how to relate with classmates at school. How relationships will be developed is something interesting to watch. Obesity and depression will continue to trouble children, and they will go through life medicated when just exiting their rooms and joining the world might work wonders. I hope that someday parents will place bans, restrictions, or time periods of use on these phones. It’s a healthy thing to do, and parents have a responsibility to monitor phone use by their children.