Nowadays, seeing kids everywhere from teens to toddlers glued to their iPhones and iPads is no surprise. According to Common Sense Media, teens with smartphones spend approximately four and a half hours daily on their screens. That’s when they are not texting or calling!
Curious to learn more, I interviewed students, parents, teachers, and technology experts. At a screening hosted in November at my former school, La Entrada Middle School, I was expecting to find a concerned audience of all adults but was pleasantly surprised to see the gym packed with grandparents, playful children, teens, and parents. The film was “Screenagers,” a documentary that discusses media’s effects on the lives of teens and their families. Directed by Delaney Ruston, both a doctor and a parent of two kids, the film balances the multiple perspectives of parents, experts, and teens on the issues of addiction to and the benefits of technology.
Charlene Margot, the director of the parent education series for the Sequoia Union High School District and the Las Lomitas Elementary School District, organized this screening. As a parent, with two grown-up kids, she believes that it’s the latest technology that keeps individuals connected in Silicon Valley’s busy world. “I don’t think teenagers are really doing anything different than they already did. We all want to be in touch with our friends all the time, just now you got cell phones to do it with,” she said.
TECHNOLOGY BRINGS CHANGE AND CONNECTIVITY
La Entrada and Hillview have taken an interest in teaching the technological skills necessary for the future, and both schools are providing iPads for all students. Michelle Pitt has been teaching technology at La Entrada’s computer lab for 16 years. She reflected on how devices have brought change at school: “This lab, for example, it might not be around for very much longer because they have these devices (iPads) in the classroom.” Technology has become a necessity and “right when school gets out, phones are out.”
As a technology expert for 21 years, she sees the value in technology: convenience, connectivity, and its potential to create and produce. “I just appreciate having access to all this information, looking up Siri, or ‘what is the definition of?’… I have family out in the middle of the United States and just connecting with them easily, I love that part.” However, as a teacher and mother, she worries about potential negative effects.
So where do we draw the line between proper usage of technology and the dangerous territory of addiction? Pitt provides her parental dissatisfaction on the impact of technology on her kids. Her children, now 28 and 32, were young when technology was on the rise. Now, “when they come to dinner at our house, they will pull out their phone and have it right there all the time.” She is still shocked by the number of times that has happened. “That’s when I knew it was that crazy, that addicting,” she said. Interestingly, Common Sense Media surveyed 1,200 parents and teens to discover that about 78% of teens look at media hourly and 75% of them feel the urge to respond immediately to a message or comment.
Margot is not worried for her children anymore, but she does remember when her son was in high school. He “loved these adventure games, and he probably played more than I knew. Maybe he was playing after he went to bed, playing too much.” However, she is worried about the future generations and the “lack of interpersonal feel” technology overuse may be creating. “I get really sad when I see mothers pushing babies and they’re on their phones; we’re supposed to talk to our kids. If we don’t start talking to them when they are really little, we don’t know what damage we’re doing. That really worries me.”
The University of California, L.A. (UCLA) sleep center claims that an average teen requires at least nine hours of sleep to function well during the day. However, this ideal is far from realistic for teens at M-A. Sophomore Logan Wilson sleepily recalls his struggles with media on a typical school day. While a stellar student, he finds himself facing his computer screen for non-homework related activities at least five hours a night. “I get on my computer and sort of try haphazardly to do my homework while on it. It doesn’t really work…And I go to bed really late.” He realizes it’s his self-control that prohibits further problems. Wilson explained,“ If I am not able to put [the screen] down, I am going to stay up and play video games.”
Sophomore Lakshmi Murahari has similar problems. Although she doesn’t have an iPhone, she finds her iPad and computer screens irresistible. “ I try to regulate myself. I’ll say ten more minutes, but it doesn’t really happen. [Media time] will go on for an hour. I’ll stay up to like 4:30 finishing stuff.”
LOST FAMILY TIME
Sleep isn’t the only healthy behavior interrupted by the bright glares of screens. Family time, considered a break from work and school, is now often sacrificed for the more entertaining, more distracting social media and video games. Murahari and her twin sister are frustrated that their parents, who don’t think they can handle smartphones, themselves spend two hours a day on entertainment plus another 7 hours working on their screens. “We don’t really have family time. We don’t see them at dinner. They are busy and they have work. We don’t really coordinate with them,” she said. With the little time they have as a family, Murahari finds it difficult to talk with her parents. They “are always on their technology. We just have a conversation, and then they pick up the phone and start talking.” Common Sense Media discovered that of those 1,200 surveyed, 1/3 of teens dispute with their parents daily about technology usage.
So, how do you find the balance between using media beneficially for connectivity and creativity and not getting trapped in a cycle of addiction, lack of sleep, and loss of family time? Murahari illustrated, “When I go home on the bus, there are so many people there, but every single person is on their phone. Everybody is just like in their own world.” How do you ensure that it’s not only texts and Snapchat that keep you in the social loop, and not primarily Instagram “likes” that boost your confidence, which Murahari sees daily on her way home from school? “People on the bus will be on their iPhones and then they will text and say ‘Oh did you see my text?’ Everything is about the texts. There is not that much about the relationship.”
There is no easy solution; however, getting involved in the environment and activities going on in the world around you certainly helps. Being obligated to meet at a sports practice after school or play your instrument for an hour can help you to prioritize your homework afterward. Activities like sports encourage you to meet and befriend others face-to-face as well. Wilson knows that it’s his dedication to debate club that assists with his media regulation and socialization. “There are practices after school and you have to be there. You have got to go and interact with people,” he said. Just a few days ago, he deleted two of his social media apps off his smartphone to keep himself from getting distracted.
It’s actions like committing to a club or removing an addicting game off your phone that encourage you to practice self-control and put aside your screens. Margot does have hope in the young adults and thinks it’s only a matter of time before we grow out of technology. “I am seeing that kids in their mid-twenties and late twenties are getting a little tired of technology. They still use it all the time, but when they go to a party, they’ll have a bowl where everyone will put their phone in. They are wanting more face-to-face time, communication time, and they are realizing that just texting doesn’t get you that much relationship time.”