Over the past month, as we used national data to substantiate our position that our teens are facing a mental health crisis, we embarked on an effort to expose possible contributing factors to this crisis. We started to question the role that smart phones are playing in unprecedented rates of depression and suicide. We addressed topics like cyberbullying and the psychological impact of social media.
And as we progressed through these themes, I noticed that I really started to vilify the role that smart phones play in the lives of our teens. My wife and I made a concerted effort to get rid of our children’s limited screen time altogether! We enrolled our girls in yoga and gymnastics, and found ourselves spending a lot more time on sledding hills and in indoor play areas. We embraced the eruption of clay and paint and glue and slime from our breakfast table. Because it was a small price to pay to get our kids moving and creating!
But last week, as my nine-year-old whined the same whine she has whined countless times before: “Daaaadeeeee, get off your phooooone,” I finally heard her.
While our daughters were tumbling and dancing and reading and drawing…we were texting and whatsapping and refreshing our Insta and commenting on Facebook and perusing Apple News and ordering on Amazon and looking up recipes and watching new workout routines and listening to Gary Vee and…and…and…
We expected our daughters to engage with the physical world, while we were completely withdrawn from it. Not only were we role-modeling the wrong behavior, and missing opportunities for real connection, we were sending a very clear message to our children: “There is an entire other world out there that I get to access with my phone. And it is far more interesting than you are!”
With absolutely NO NEGATIVE INTENT, our relationships with our own phones completely compromised our values. In one implied message, we undermined the entire foundation we have worked so hard to create for our children: To know they are our most most valuable, God-given creations, laden with the most profound potential to do good and to be good.
If we want our children to BELIEVE otherwise, we had better start SHOWING them otherwise.
So while I have proposed the notion that a flip phone might be a remedy for our adolescent mental health crisis, I now question who might be in more dire need of this flip phone therapy…our children…or their parents?