Opinion: Parents, consider this alarming data

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“Oh, isn’t that being far too strict?”

“My kids would never put up with it.”

“But I need to reach them at different times of the day.”

When you allow a bit of paraphrasing, those were the three most common objections I received after suggesting that kids should not possess smartphones until they are 18 years old.

Yes, there were plenty of emails in support, as well.

One family, which has already had a high schooler treated for depression, was about to ban smartphones but hadn’t quite gotten around to it.

They wrote to say thanks, and to let me know they’d done the deed.

Their kids weren’t happy about it — but at the end of the day, keeping these devices out of youngsters’ hands is more important than keeping them pleased.

I’ll answer those three objections at the end of this column, but for anyone who is wondering if they should put restrictions on their children’s use of smartphones, there are a few things I hope you’ll consider.

For starters, the percentage of kids ages 13 through 17 who have smartphones has now reached 73 percent, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.

Of that group, 72 percent said they always or usually check their phones immediately when they wake up in the morning.

So let me ask you: Are these 15- and 16-year-olds going straight from sleep to the phone because they want to check world affairs on CNN?

Really now …

A truly insightful look into the lives of our teens was compiled recently by Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University.

Twenge led a group that set out to chart the connection between smartphones and depression or suicide.

HERE’S THE beginning of what she wrote in the Washington Post …

“Around 2012, something started going wrong in the lives of teens.

“In just the five years between 2010 and 2015, the number of U.S. teens who felt useless and joyless — classic symptoms of depression — surged 33 percent in large national surveys.

“Teen suicide attempts increased 23 percent. Even more troubling, the number of 13-to-18-year-olds who committed suicide jumped 31 percent.

“In a new paper published in Clinical Psychological Science, my colleagues and I found that the increases in depression, suicide attempts and suicide appeared among teens from every background: more privileged and less privileged, across all races and ethnicities, and in every region of the country.”

“All told, our analysis found that the generation of teens I call ‘iGen’ — those born after 1995 — is much more likely to experience mental-health issues than their millennial predecessors.”

I probably don’t have to tell you that 2012, the year Twenge cited right away, is considered the start of the true smartphone explosion.

Twenge’s research led her to dismiss many social and economic factors in a search for the jump in teenage mental health issues.

Finally, she asked …

“What happened so that so many more teens, in such a short time, would feel depressed, attempt suicide and commit suicide?”

Then answered …

“After scouring several large surveys for clues, I found that all of the possibilities traced back to a major change in teens’ lives: the sudden ascendance of the smartphone.”

When I wrote that first column suggesting that parents should prevent their kids from using smartphones until they turned 18, I wasn’t just babbling at random.

I was begging people to heed the research, look at the numbers — or you might be praying that those statistics don’t someday include your own child.

Right, now I’m going to answer those three objections we saw way back at the start of this discussion.

First, nothing is too strict if you’re saving your kids’ minds and maybe their lives.

Second, it’s not their decision. Think of all the things you’d keep your 14-year-old from doing. Having a smartphone has been proven to be right up there with the scariest of them all.

And third, you can give your teens cellphones that don’t connect to the internet. No problem.

Please, please look at those facts!

This isn’t about my opinion at all.

It’s about what is being proven every year.

Yeah, yeah, surveys always seem like they’re about someone else.

But what happens when it’s YOUR child who drifts into that dark, empty, helpless place?

Think about it.


Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press.

A Brand New Day appears Wednesday through Saturday each week. Steve’s sports column runs on Tuesday.

Email: scameron@cdapress.com.


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