In Summary

The days of physical face-to-face socialising seem to have faded away, as if an ancient relic of the past.

Smartphones smartphones everywhere, but not a smart conversation to be had. Everywhere we look, we are confronted by a generation of children bound consistently to their smartphones.

The days of physical face-to-face socialising seem to have faded away, as if an ancient relic of the past.

Although this phenomenon is not limited to our children only (we are perhaps as obsessed with our phones), I think back fondly to my teenage years spending time with friends at their houses, the beach or other social events, all coordinated and executed meticulously with only a landline. We pushed our parents to let us take a cab alone, to have unchaperoned parties, to extend our curfews, to get our drivers’ licenses and to be free of limits. We were happiest when we hung out with our friends.

With the invasion of the everpresent smartphone, our children can be constantly in touch with apps to track social hotspots and Ubers to take them where they want to go. And yet, the more access they have to smartphones, the less socially they seem inclined. The new normal is to hang out alone with a smartphone. Can meaningful friendships, and the lessons we learn from them, truly be sustained virtually? Can our children become independent and healthy adults with normal social skills? Or perhaps the bigger question is, do they want to?

Internet and social media

Our children have never known a different reality than that of the internet and social media. They have Snapchat accounts before they are 10, and seem to like their phones more than actual people. They don’t seem to want to get their drivers licenses, or a job, and spend less time on homework than before.

The amount of time physically spent with friends has dropped 40 per cent in the last 15 years, and rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed in the last 5 years. The psychological effects of smartphones and social media seem to be making them more unhappy and distant from reality.

Its not all bad news. Today’s teens are physically safer – they spend more time in their rooms than driving, and have less of a tendency to get drunk or to smoke. Today’s 12th graders go out less than 8th graders did 5 years ago, and are less likely to date or have sex earlier than 11th grade. The teen birth rate has dropped by 67 per cent since 1991. These are relatively positive trends.

As parents, we are caught between wanting to give our children the very latest phones, and hoping that they emerge psychologically unscathed from being bound to them. If only there were a formula we could use to find that perfect balance.