By now, we’ve all grown accustomed to – even complacent about – the predominant role our mobile devices play in our daily lives. We’re no longer appalled by the now-clichéd image of a group of friends seated around a dinner table, each so focused upon their mobile phone screen that they might as well be alone. As a matter of fact, we don’t even see the scenario as being strange. It is arguable whether this is cause for concern in and of itself, but looking at the broader picture, including how mobile phones have begun to dominate our children’s lives, should at least give one pause.
Yes, we are addicted
Back in 2014, the Apigee Institute, in collaboration with the Stanford University Mobile Innovation Group, surveyed 1,000 mobile phone users in the US and UK to determine the level of users’ “apdiction” to their mobile phones and its effect upon their social lives. The most frequent users, those who acknowledge using the apps on their mobile phones almost constantly, claim that their devices enhance their productivity, while at the same time admitting that their socializations would suffer significantly were they to be deprived of the social apps on their phones.
New toy, or high-tech heroin?
It would seem logical to assume that a new user would be intrigued by the capabilities of his or her smartphone, and would tend to play with it at first, only to have his or her interest (and use) begin to wane as the novelty wore off. The Apigee study, however, found that the novelty does not wear off; rather, it inspires users to seek out and download even more apps, and to use their smartphones as much as or even more than they had previously. Smartphone / app use was shown to have a particularly pervasive effect on virtually all areas of users’ lives. For example, according to the study:
- 92 percent reported that having a smartphone has altered how they connect with friends
- 58 percent said it has changed how they manage their health
- 49 percent said it has changed how they date
- 84 percent of shoppers said it has changed how they shop
- 78 percent of people who use banks said it has changed how they bank
- 70 percent of TV viewers said it has changed how they watch TV and movies
- 65 percent of employees said it has changed how they do their job
How are our children being affected?
As far back as 2008, psychiatrists were beginning to see an alarming pattern in the behaviour of children who had smartphones. According to a Guardian article published in June of that year, two children in Spain were admitted to a mental health clinic by their parents, who claimed that the children, ages 12 and 13, “could not carry out normal activities without their phones”. The children spent an average of six hours a day on their phones, with the result being that their socialization with their peers apparently deteriorated significantly, and they began having trouble carrying out other normal activities without constantly reverting to their mobile phones.
Apparently, the case of the Spanish children was merely a forebear of a phenomenon that has become increasingly widespread as more and more children and young people have their own mobile phones. Ownership of a popular model of mobile phone has become one of the most important status symbols to children, particularly among teens. Even the use of the phones, in lieu of other more traditional childhood activities, has evolved into a required social norm. Child psychologist Dr. David Lewis describes the problem thusly, “The mobile now often substitutes for physical play. To develop proper friendships you have to invest time with people, doing things together. Speaking on the phone and sending lots of text messages will give children many more acquaintances but fewer friends.”
Given the increasingly polarized interactions we’re seeing in so many aspects of adult life, it is becoming ever more essential that children of the next and future generations learn how to effectively manage relationships with others whose perspectives conflict with their own. A generation that lacks the social skills and incentive to integrate with others who hold to a different mindset has little hope of resolving or averting problems that could well prove catastrophic.
We definitely need to instill in our children an awareness of the economic impact of mobile phone use, but our responsibility goes far beyond teaching them how to shop for the best price for mobile phone service. We must at the same time teach them how to set their mobile phones aside, so that they can develop the interpersonal skills that are so vital for a well-adjusted, satisfying life. But first, we’ll have to put down our own phones now and then.