This doesn’t feel like an upgrade

The shocked look on my daughter’s face when I gave her an iPhone for her middle school graduation present was priceless. Several generations older, it wasn’t brand new, but for her it was an incredible upgrade from the flip phone she had had for the past two years. Knowing full well how tethered I have become, my goal was to wait as long as possible before introducing her to all that comes with the phone-obsessed world.

It took just under two months for her to ask, phone in hand, why I didn’t tell her the phone would make her depressed. Fourteen and more self-aware than most adults, she’s right. Why didn’t I tell her? I’ve often found myself spending entirely too much time online, and, consequently feeling a bit blue. She asked if we can both get rid of our phones. And, in the next breath, said that she wants to use the camera and doesn’t want to give it up. To me, that sounded a lot like, “Mom, please give me limits.”

As I work on defining limits in a mostly technology addicted society, social media was buzzing last week over an article that appeared in The Atlantic, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”, by Jean M. Twenge, about the group she’s named iGen (born between 1995 and 2012). Twenge, who has been researching generational differences for a quarter of a century, paints a bleak picture of teenagers who are at greater risk for suicide and depression, who have no strong desire or motivation to become independent, and who appear to be more comfortable living their lives online, rather than physically being with others. The article alludes to results from a long-running annual survey of teenagers that indicate what should be obvious to all of us, “all screen activities are linked with less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness.”

I can hear the critics loud and clear. Yes, there are advances that come with technology that benefit us all. However, it seems wise to listen closely to what our kids are saying. Athena, a 13-year-old who was interviewed for the article sounds a lot like my own teen when she talks about how frustrating it is when her friends are often glued to their phones instead of actually talking to her when they are physically together. She talks about a time when she yanked a phone out of her friend’s hand and threw it at a wall (which reminds me of a time I walked out on a date because he was more interested in his phone than our conversation).

Two months in and I’ve got minimal protection in place, as in I have to approve any apps my daughter wants to purchase. I just received a school email with the dates on which I can pick up my teen’s Chromebook. Before school begins, my goal is to expand usage limits through our provider for the both of us. Beyond that, it’s me telling her to put the phone down. I’m having a hard time navigating a healthy path for my daughter and me when screens surround us. I don’t imagine I’m alone.

Photo thanks to flickr user Mark Harrington, creative commons license.

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