Abducted by Technology- Raising the Smartphone Generation: April Whiting  7 min read

April Whiting at TEDxIdahoFalls conference
April Whiting at TEDxIdahoFalls conference

Full text of April Whiting’s talk: Abducted by Technology- Raising the Smartphone Generation at TEDxIdahoFalls conference.

Notable quote from this talk:

“You are your child’s best app. Sit in the trenches with your child, have hard conversations with them. You are their best line of defense for navigating this technology world. ”

TRANSCRIPT:

April Whiting – Certified Screen Safety Educator

We all have moments in our lives that imprint on our hearts. Mine was the night I was tucking one of my children into bed. I looked down into his precious eyes and realized it was the first time that entire day I had made eye contact with him.

Sadness and regret filled me as I had the realization- not only were his eyes down in a screen most of the day, but me, his mother had given my own screen more of my time and attention that day than I had my children. I was so rattled by this realization that I began that very night, the journey into my family living screen free for six months.

You see, I am the mother of four children. And in the past decade as technology and small screen use exploded, the dynamics in my family had changed. Most of our free time was spent on our own separate devices in different corners of our home.

“Technology can be so isolating, if you let it.”

I decided that something needed to change. So I started doing research regarding screen time. I’d like to share with you some of what I learned:

New scientific research studies show screens cause our brains to flood with dopamine similar to a hit of cocaine.

Let’s take just a moment and let that sink in. Giving your child a small screen, like an iPad or a smartphone isn’t unlike what would happen if your child snorted cocaine.

Toddlers who spend more than one hour per day on a screen show lower levels of development in the brain’s white matter– An area, key to the development of language literacy and cognitive skills.

Psychologists are learning that the dopamine release that comes from exposure to these screens challenges our children’s impulse control by increasing the demand for instant gratification.

So what does that mean? It means our kids are having a hard time finding joy in the little things in life.  The things that we enjoyed, what all kids enjoyed before the days of the ever present screens. Our kids are living in a chronic state of hyper arousal, leaving them agitated and exhausted.

And then there’s this staggering statistic: suicide rates for children ages 10 to 14, nearly tripled in the past decade, according to the CDC. After a stable period from 2000 to 2007, in 2007, rates surged 76%. What else happened in the year 2007, the first smartphone hit the market.

Now, is that the only reason for this staggering statistic? No, absolutely not.

But is there a correlation here? Its food for thought isn’t it?

So now that I was armed with this information that confirmed what my gut instincts were telling me, it was time to apply it. I decided if these screens were causing my children’s brains to act like they were on hard street drugs, I was going to detox them like they were in rehab. 

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So I took two weeks and I slowly decreased screen time a little every day until by the end of two weeks, I was at zero. Zero minutes of screen time a day. Not a little bit of time if they got their homework done or a few minutes while they waited for the school bus, I mean zero minutes of screen time a day; every day for a long time.

And I’m not going to lie: day 1 and day 2 of no screens were not for the faint of heart, but then on day 3, there was a shift. It’s like my kids remembered what it was like to use their imaginations and be kids again. They also discovered this magical place called the backyard.

Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and the change in my family was significant. Laughter and imagination filled my home. Behavior problems were few and far between. The human connection that those screens had taken away was back.

I didn’t realize just how alone together my family had become until we detoxed. My table was a constant mess of Legos and art kits. And I loved it. One day I opened the door to sign for a package, it was probably more Legos. And a Nerf bullet flew past my head and hit the UPS man in the chest.

He laughed and said, “He loved the scene of the Nerf war going on behind me.” My home was full of the sounds of childhood. My kids were absolutely thriving. Those six months were sacred, but I know it couldn’t last forever because technology isn’t going anywhere.

And what’s more, we live in a world of technology that our children have to be comfortable with in order to fully participate in society. It’s our job as parents to teach them to have a healthy and balanced relationship with technology. 

It’s also important that us as parents model good tech habits, because sometimes; a lot of times our children’s parents are more addicted to their own screens than our children are. We are not above the dopamine release and the addiction that comes from these screens.

So we made a game plan. Here is what we do in our home and what I have helped others do in their homes to find balance with technology:

We decided that all dinners would be device free. All devices. Yes, even mom and dad’s smartphones go in a basket in a different room during dinner.

No phones in bedrooms and bathrooms, and here’s why-

Have you ever heard of the notion stopping cues?

A stopping cue is a signal that tells you it’s time to stop what you’re doing and move on to something new. The 20th century was full of stopping cues.  You’d watch your favorite TV show and then you had to wait an entire week for the next episode. You’d read the morning newspaper and then you’d fold it up, you’d set it aside and you’d move on with your day.

Now in contrast the way we are entertained and informed online leaves us little stopping cues. You can binge watch entire seasons of your favorite show. You Google the morning news and before you know it, three hours have passed.

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And then there’s social media. Have you ever gotten to the very end of social media and thought, ‘well, that’s the end. Time to move on with life’. You haven’t, because it’s endless. Online entertainment gives us no stopping cues. So we have to look at our everyday lives and find ways to create our own stopping cues.

Every night, all devices have a bedtime and all tablets and phones go on a central charging station under the control of mom and dad. Because if your children are taking their devices to bed with them, that’s when they are making poor choices online. They’re also not getting adequate sleep.

But here’s the big kicker: When those devices are on the central charging station, this, my parental friends is when you are doing your safety checks. You should know every login and password that your child has on their device.

And you should not be afraid to use it. Look at their apps. Are you comfortable with the apps they have on their device? Do you know what these apps are? Are you okay with their web browser history searches? These are things that you can look for while you’re doing these safety checks.

We decided to delay giving our children smartphones for as long as possible. Giving your child a smartphone is like handing over the keys to a sports car with a brain that behaves like its on cocaine. 

My ten-year-old does not need a smartphone. And neither does yours. Have incremental trust with your children. There are other options out there to start your kids out with you, don’t just have to hand over a smartphone. There’s watch phones that they can wear on their wrist. There’s phones that look like smartphones, but they only call and text. These are great ways to start your kids out.

We decided to stop doing the device dance with our kids. So what is the device dance?

Well, let’s say you give your child a device like an iPad or a smartphone. And then the next day they don’t clean their room. So you take that device back. A couple of days later, you come home from work and you are exhausted and you just want one hour of peace and quiet. And so you give that device back. And then the next day your child talks back, so you take that device back again.

And then in the middle of this device dance, you are harming your relationship with your child.

Now, are there reasons you should take the device away for?

Absolutely things like looking at pornography, sexting, handing out private information. These are reasons to take the device. But the everyday life and mistakes that all children make, these are not reasons to do the device dance with them.

But our children do need clear parameters and boundaries of why you would take that device and for how long. The best way to do that is with a device agreement plan. So you can sit down together as a family and you can decide together on reasons why you would that device away and for what duration. You can add things like when someone’s talking to you, screens go down and eyes go up. 

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That’s a good reminder for us too. You print it out, you all sign it. And then when your child breaks one of the rules, because they will, this is a learning experience for them. Then you can get out that device agreement and say, see, you broke this rule and we decided together that this is what would happen.

Have monitoring apps and filters on all devices to keep out as much of the yak as you possibly can. But unfortunately there’s no magical filter to keep out everything.

You are your child’s best app. Sit in the trenches with your child, have hard conversations with them. You are their best line of defense for navigating this technology world.

These days, I spend a lot of time in schools talking to students and a lot of time in communities talking to parents. And here’s what I’ve learned when I go into schools and I talk to these incredible kids: 

The number one thing I come away with every time is that they feel like their parents are addicted to their own phones. They are craving for you to put down your own devices. They just want to feel seen, heard, and loved.

If you want your children to put down their devices, trust that they won’t, if you can’t.

And here’s what I learned from parents:

“We are trying to figure this out. As we go, we are the first generation to raise kids in this tech world. We don’t have a past generation to reference and say, how did you find balance with your kids in your home?

It can feel absolutely overwhelming, but it is possible to enjoy all the wonderful benefits that technology has to offer us without letting it harm our relationships and our family dynamics

And so today, remember this, you get to choose what you want your relationship with technology to look like. Start today, start right now, and envision what you want your relationship and your family’s relationship with technology to look like.

Small changes can lead to an incredible outcome in your home, the same way it did mine. 

– April Whiting

 

Recommendations for Furthur Reading:

Can Flip Phones End Our Social Media Addiction: Collin Kartchner

Dopamine Detox: Should you do it During Quarantine?

How can we use Social Media platforms to benefit the world and avoid the negative impacts: Leslie Coutterand

How To Deal With Insecurity: 7 Ways To Help You Deal With Insecurity

 

April Whiting’s talk: Abducted by Technology- Raising the Smartphone Generation at TEDxIdahoFalls conference