Have you ever had a hunch about something? A gut feeling? A sixth sense? Many parents have these uncanny moments of clarity and perception, especially mothers. Last night, our school made an important presentation available to our Matthews Hall community from Dr. Alison Yeung, MD, an Ontario family physician and parent who is raising the alarm about “the smart phone effect” on children and youth. She has important things to say on this topic that all of us parents should heed. Dr. Yeung’s advice is wise and timely and based on evidence emerging from the medical literature. But more important than that, it emerges from an even more important “super power” that should never be ignored – her “mother’s intuition”.
One of the most highly discussed – and debated – topics among educators and parents today is screen time. How much is too much and what impact will screens have on children’s development? Amid these growing questions, the World Health Organization has issued past guidelines on the amount of time young children should spend in front of screens. Why do we need an international organization to tell us what should be clear to reasonable people?…that providing young children with personal devices connected to the internet (including its dark and seedy corners and poisonous back alleys) is ill-advised.
According to Dr. Yeung, 50% of kids have their own smartphone by age 8! Think about it: many children are not allowed to venture off their street alone on a bicycle, but they are free to “roam” the internet and social media feeds for hours a day by themselves!
There was a time when someone contacting our children called on our home telephone: it rang, and we were aware that another human being was communicating with our 10-year old child, likely in the front hallway or in the very public kitchen. Today, armed with their own smartphones, kids and youth are able to send and receive clandestine messages, scroll through and take part in social media feeds at all hours of the day or night – sometimes under the guise of “doing homework” or “just reading”. And all with our blessing. During these hours, they can be inundated with harmful commentary, damaging dialogue, and questionable images. They can be exposed to anti-social forms of communication among peers and strangers, risking mental health or personal safety.
As Dr. Yeung cautions, it is a serious situation for the modern child. That being said, it doesn’t have to be. No child can obtain, purchase, activate or pay the monthly fees for their own smartphones without parental approval and facilitation. This is on us, not the kids.
Do our children need their own smartphones before they are in high school, working part-time jobs, and coordinating the transportation and responsibilities of increasingly complicated adolescent schedules? Or do we need them to have them? Why do we need them to have them?
There is no question that social media and the excessive time kids and youth spend on personal devices are compromising their mental and physical health, relationships, interpersonal skills, and their ability to live balanced age-appropriate lives.
As our speaker, Dr. Yeung, advises, “ As parents, we have to pick our battles with our kids every day. Delaying the age we give our children access to social media should be the hill every parent dies on”.
Where will we plant our flags? On the hill of TikTok and Instagram OR on the bedrock of common sense (i.e., mother’s intuition)?
Ric Anderson, Head of School