Travel back in time with me, if you will, to 2005. The car: a 1995 Oldsmobile Cutlass, the phone: a gray and blue Motorola i265, the hair: bowl shaped and much too long.
I was into the Lord of the Rings franchise, U2, and the cute farm girl from up the road (who is still cute and I’m still into her). I was 16.
At the risk of sounding “geezerish,” as that farm girl (my wife Stacey) would say, if you had asked me about the most important physical objects in my life, I doubt my phone would have cracked the top 20.
It was a simple device, even by the standards of the day, with its stand out feature being Nextel’s “Push to Talk, which essentially turned it into a walkie talkie. I believe it had the demo of the game “Brick Breaker” on it, and for 99 cents you could purchase a custom touch tone ring tone which might be recognizable as the original song if you listened closely.
To text, “Hey whats up” to a friend, I had to push 44339990944287777087, and if I messed up in the middle I had to backspace to my error and do it all again.
About that time, the hottest phone on the market was the Motorola Razr, which was a flip phone and could hold up to 1 GB of music.
If you wanted to “Google” something, you had to do that from home. If you wanted to take pictures, you had to bring a camera. If you wanted music, you had to flip through your CD case and hope it wasn’t scratched. Those are all concerns that the current batch of teenagers will never have to worry about.
Yet, even then I remember hearing about studies on the dangers of teens and texting, even when that was all a phone could do.
“Should Teens Own Smartphones?” Tony Reinke dares to ask at DesiringGod.com, and in an atmosphere where nearly 75% of teenaged kids in America possess a smartphone, it becomes a poignant question indeed!
We’re far removed from the days where parents were simply concerned with the amount of text messages being sent. Now we have to be concerned that they’re sending or receiving nude pictures, or being groomed by an online predator, or being bullied on social sites which many parents don’t even know exist.
Mobile technology has changed, and continues to change, the world in ways which we’ll probably never fully understand or appreciate, and it has not all been change for the good.
In Reinke’s article, he quotes one of the pioneers of the smartphone, former Apple VP Tony Fadell, who admits, “I wake up in cold sweats every so often thinking, what did we bring to the world?”
It’s to his credit that he is concerned about his customers, even if it is not his responsibility to worry how they might use the powerful tools he helped create.
For teens, that responsibility belongs to their parents. As Fadell notes, however, most parents have never been warned about the dangerous possibilities introduced with the constant connection brought by these devices.
Reinke mentions a conversation he had with an Assistant Principal of a high school. He asked her how her job had changed over the years, “…the one thing that has changed drastically in working with teenagers for over twenty years is the dependency they have now on the instant gratification and feedback from others. How many likes do I have? How many followers? And there’s a compulsion to put something online to see how many likes I can get. And if that wasn’t enough, what does it say about me?
“There’s a really strong connection to this behavior and the increased mental health issues we’re seeing in the school. Over the past three-to-five years I would say my job has changed the most, because we’re now dealing with so much more mental health. I don’t think it’s singularly because of technology, but I genuinely believe digital technology is a major factor. It changes everything from the way people relate with others to the way they see themselves.”
More and more often we see these claims from parents, teachers, and researchers. We can’t claim ignorance any longer.
Of course, the answer to that question, “Should Teens Own Smartphones?” will depend on each particular teen. Some will be able to handle the increased responsibility and social pressures which come with being constantly connected.
Many, I would argue most, would be better served by waiting.
Tony Reinke closes his piece with an interview with a 20 year old author, Jaquelle Crowe, whose parents opted to protect her from the pressures associated with a mobile device.
Here are her words to parents considering buying their teen a smartphone.
“It is worth it to have your kids wait. I’ve seen it and heard it and can attest to it since I got my own smartphone — smartphones change you. They give you overwhelming and shocking access. They zap your attention span. They are massively addictive. You can (and should!) put up safeguards, but a smartphone fundamentally changes your heart and mind. If it’s possible for teens to delay that change, I think it is a wise consideration.”
To the disappointed teen dealing with peer pressure and the dreaded “Fear of Missing Out,” Jaquelle Crowe has one last word of advice,“Jesus is better than a smartphone…. when you feel burdened by exclusion and isolation, don’t despair. Your identity is not in fitting in or meeting superficial expectations. It’s in Christ alone. And he gives you one task: be faithful. Right now, that looks like obeying your parents and trusting their good intentions for you — and that may mean not having a smartphone for a time.”
A word from the director:
Over the years we have been blessed with strong giving at the beginning of each month. This faithful giving strengthens us. However, giving has been much lower than we usually experience starting November.
If this ministry has been a help and blessing to you, your support at this time would be deeply appreciated.
To finish out a year in a healthy position, puts us on strong foundation to continue the work that God has called us to.
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