Smartphones, children and the outdoors
I have had a bee in my bonnet that has been buzzing louder and louder for a while now. But I have reached my own little ‘Critical Mass’. Deeply seeded in who I am and what I have been doing for the last 20 years is the process of taking people to the outdoors. Sometimes for education, sometimes for team building, sometimes for leadership training, sometimes for family connection time.
Partly due to the time frame, but always due the physical location I have worked in, technology and electronic devices have been largely non existent or not operable. And by extension, the outcomes achieved from these ‘outdoor adventures’ around the topics of ‘relationships’ or ‘interactions’ has become the key focus of the experience. So without actually trying, I have seen the value of humans interacting meaningfully in the absence of technology.
Which brings me to my point, a line in the sand, if you will. Ready?
Why do we rush to put technology like smartphones in the hands of our children? Are we too quick to utilise screens as electronic baby sitters?
There, I said it. And I’m going to stick my head above the trench for a while on this one. I see some benefits of smartphone and screen use and I think it’s important for kids to learn to use the ‘tools of the future’. In fact, when used appropriately smartphones and other screens can be an asset in the field of learning and study. So I’m not anti technology. But I do see the down sides …… regularly.
And, in my opinion, it manifests itself in a weird way. Most often I hear the negatives from parents at school drop off or pickup. “I can’t get him off the screen.” or “She had a friend over and all they did was stare at their phones”.
Now, I could get all ‘sciencey’ and quote the many studies I have read, but the reality is that smartphones haven’t really been around long enough to get too much meaningful data on how they have impacted on the long term health and well being of children as they grow to adulthood. What with the many changes that occur in children as they navigate their way through the teens into young adults and add into the mix the natural progression of a society as it continually adapts to new technologies and ways of thinking. It would be hard to single out the changes made by engagement with smartphones! As such most of the studies have centred around more immediate, more measurable topics such as How smartphones have impacted educational outcomes, or How smartphones impact sleeping patterns. Sample sizes have been relatively small compared to many other such studies. But we are starting to see some very disconcerting occurrences. It is now a recognised psychological condition to be ‘addicted’ to screens (gaming seems to be the leading contender here). In fact, a large component of school absences are attributed to this. With so much information and opinion circulating around most of what I believe boils down to anecdotal evidence and observations by my colleagues and me from nearly 20 years of working with young people in the outdoors.
My wife (T) and I came across an American website titled https://www.waituntil8th.org/. I would encourage any parent to have a look at this site and consider the pledge. It asks parents to wait until Year 8 (8th Grade in the United States) before the giving of a smartphone to your child/children. For us it came to a point after we had issued a phone to our daughter. We didn’t like who she became with the phone (maturity levels are different for all children). So after a while we took it back. This was really hard for both her and us. But after 2 weeks of behaving like a withdrawing drug addict, our daughter returned. She is now in year 7 and ‘borrows’ the phone on occasions. With this her maturity around smartphone usage has increased dramatically. She is on track to get a smartphone next year.
I hope you take a look at the website. It is thought provoking if nothing else. I will expand on this topic a little more in upcoming blogs.
Until then, take care.