In 2015, Time magazine reported that Americans in aggregate touch their phone 8 billion times per day, or about 46 times per day on average.
A few months later, in 2016, NetworkWorld.com cited a study claiming that the average user touches their phone 2,617 times each day.
If you’ve ever fallen into the mobile game phenomena “Candy Crush,” you may have noticed the claim that sometimes appears on the loading screen, "Players swipe more than two laps around the globe on their mobiles every day!"
Of course, even a casual observer doesn’t need to see these statistics to realize that mobile devices have become a common, even crucial, piece of modern life.
An NBC article from 2016 reported that 50% of teens admit to being addicted to their cell phone, while 60% of parents would describe their child in this way.
As a portal to the collective knowledge of mankind: the internet, they are all at once a tool of unequaled usefulness, a means of endless distraction, and an access point to the darkest parts of man’s imagination.
Yet, for all of the analysis and statistics and personal experience with smart phone use, there can still be effects that surprise us on occasion.
Which is why, I assume, there have been several published reactions to psychologist Dr. Jean Twenge’s article at the Atlantic this week.
She makes note of how cell phones and social media have evolved to almost encapsulate or define the teenage experience of the current generation.
In her article, Twenge uses a case study of a 13-year-old girl, writing, “She spent much of her summer keeping up with friends, but nearly all of it was over text or Snapchat. “I’ve been on my phone more than I’ve been with actual people,” she said. “My bed has, like, an imprint of my body.”
Twenge goes on to highlight the data she researched, “Across a range of behaviors—drinking, dating, spending time unsupervised— 18-year-olds now act more like 15-year-olds used to, and 15-year-olds more like 13-year-olds. Childhood now stretches well into high school.
Why are today’s teens waiting longer to take on both the responsibilities and the pleasures of adulthood? Shifts in the economy, and parenting, certainly play a role. In an information economy that rewards higher education more than early work history, parents may be inclined to encourage their kids to stay home and study rather than to get a part-time job. Teens, in turn, seem to be content with this homebody arrangement—not because they’re so studious, but because their social life is lived on their phone. They don’t need to leave home to spend time with their friends.”
Of course, the Atlantic article pays special attention to the effects that these habits have on students’ mental health: “Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.”
But one related area the article leaves alone is the effect it has on the culture, specifically the culture’s view of morality.
In her case study, Twenge makes note of teens’ prolific use of the application, “Snapchat”. What she doesn’t mention is the app’s reputation as a platform for sexting, as any images that are shared via the app will self-delete after being viewed.
A 2014 article in Time cited a study which delivered surprising results about the prevalence of sexting, “Researchers from Drexel University surveyed college students, asking them if they had ever sent or received “sexually explicit text messages or images” when they were under age 18. Fifty-four percent said yes...”
It’s a common enough touchstone among teens for a UK girls fashion store, Missguided, to have recently come under fire for alluding to it in its dressing room décor, which reportedly featured signs reading, “send me nudes.”
One wonders how many parents who complained about the indescribably inappropriate signs spent equal energy monitoring the teen culture which inspired them.
These examples and statistics speak for themselves.
Parents,it can’t always be someone else’s kids. Everyone is someone else to someone else. Kids are doing this right under good parents’ noses. If your kid has a mobile device, make sure they’re not part of these statistics.
It’s time we stop pushing the dangers of these devices to the back of our minds. Maybe they’re not sexting. There’s still a good chance they’re missing out on the joys of real life.
Social media is a high pressure atmosphere. Everyone posts the best parts of their lives, creating the illusion of perfection, literally demanding a covetous response, whether consciously or not. All of this tempts us to join an unmentioned competition, with each post searching for contentment, not in the subject of the post, but in the reaction to it.
That’s a tragedy.
Make sure your kids know how to enjoy a good thing for what it is and not just for how cool it makes them look.
If you want to delve deeper into the spiritual dangers of these digital devices check out this piece by Tim Challies at Desiring God entitled, “Letter to Teens Unboxing Their First Smartphone.”
Lastly, as we emailed you this article, and you may be looking down at your phone right now reading this warning, it’s clear that this amazing technology can also be used to better you as a person, and – most importantly – to bring glory to God.
Let this writing be a reminder to you to weigh your time in front of a screen in comparison to what you know God desires for your life.
To support our efforts please click here or mail your gift to American Decency Association (ADA), PO Box 202, Fremont, MI 49412.
American Decency Association is a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.