Smartphones: Are our kids addicted to devices?
“It’s the easiest babysitting hack known to modern adults,” said Tanya Basu in TheDailyBeast.com. Hand a fussy child a smartphone or tablet, and voilà: “The kid is quiet, eyes wide, and still.” Plenty of parents rely on this “magic trick,” but as children age into teens “hunched over their smartphones, oblivious to the world,” moms and dads are increasingly worried about the perils of digital addiction. This month, two major Apple investors echoed these fears. Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System pension fund, which together own nearly $2 billion in Apple stock, implored Apple in a public letter to “fund research into what its ubiquitous products might do to a child’s brain.” Parents have long wondered if the six hours a day the average teenager spends in front of a screen is safe, said Jean Twenge in TheConversation.com. “Recent research suggests it’s not,” with sleep deprivation, depression, and even suicidal thoughts becoming alarmingly prevalent among young smartphone users. If no less an expert than Steve Jobs once said that “he didn’t let his kids use iPads,” why wouldn’t Apple lead the way in making devices safer or less enticing for our kids?
When exactly to permit smartphone access “has become among the most pivotal of parental decisions,” said Betsy Morris in The Wall Street Journal, akin to “when to hand over the car keys.” But it’s a “lopsided” battle, pitting parents and teachers against “some of the largest and most advanced companies in the world,” whose business models depend on hooking young users and keeping them “glued to their screens.” And it’s clear who’s winning. The average American kid who has a smartphone gets her first device at age 10. Roughly 75 percent of high schoolers have a phone and unlock it about 95 times a day on average. Our kids clearly have a digital addiction problem, said Gracy Olmstead in TheWeek.com, but we can’t expect Apple “to save us from ourselves.” Only “the hands-on influence and mentorship” of family, friends, and teachers can “overcome entrenched habits and foster new daily rhythms” for tech use.
“The Nancy Reagan–ification of the Big Tech backlash has begun,” said Maya Kosoff in VanityFair.com. The “escalating” reaction against tech, while “overdue,” is starting to take on “the tenor of late-’80s moral panic.” The Apple investors’ extraordinary letter reads like a “speech from the ‘Just Say No’ campaign,” with its grim statistics and sermonizing. The irony is that as we “sour on the smartphone era” and rail against the perils of screen time, Big Tech “is already moving on.” Soon enough, AI assistants will be integral to our cars, televisions, and appliances. Amid our panic about kids and screens, we’re becoming “more reliant than ever on Silicon Valley—and even less capable of unplugging.” ■