Full text of Collin Kartchner’s talk: Can flip phones end our social media addiction? At TEDxSaltLakeCity conference.
Listen to Audio:
Collin Kartchner- Founder of #SavetheKids, Motivational Speaker
Okay, so I know we all just met, but I want you to all do something terrifying. Something so nerve wracking that it might literally shake you to the core, make you question all of your beliefs. It might trigger a full blown panic attack. You may even lose your breakfast.
I want you all for a moment to imagine that you were 13 again.
Exactly. Do you remember what it’s like to be 13? Does anyone here wants to remember being 13?
That time in your life of constant anxiety and pressure to fit in when we were all trying on new and different identities almost every day. Doing our best to avoid bullies. Not get caught by the teacher, or even worse, do something the whole school might find out.
Now as you’re imagining your 13-year-old self, right with the puka shells and the Jerboa jeans. With a social and emotional and a psychological state more fragile than it’s ever been in your entire life. I want you to imagine that your mom hands you a smartphone with untethered access to social media.
Come months ago I was standing in front of 500 middle-schoolers and I handed on a notecard. and I said, fill in the following question. One thing my parents don’t know about social media is what?
And I would like to share a couple of their responses. It’s just a fun way to talk to my friends.
“One thing my parents don’t know about social media is that no one really cares about anything.”
“One thing my parents don’t know about social media is how much I love it and I hate it at the same time.”
“One thing my parents don’t know is that they’re blocked.”
And I love this one:
“One thing my parents don’t know is how fake it is.”
Truthfully, I’ve never really struggled with the fakeness of Instagram, but my mom sure does. The responses were not so positive. The majority of them sadly, were actually a lot more grim.
“One thing my parents don’t know about social media is how addictive and how awful it is.”
“One thing my parents don’t know is that it makes me very, very, very insecure.”
“Social media makes me sad and depressed. It puts pressure on me to be perfect and nearly ended my life”
Today in our country and across the globe we are seeing an epidemic rise in the levels of anxiety and depression and suicidality among our teenagers. Right here in the state of Utah, in just the last seven years, our suicide rate among kids aged 10 to 17 has jumped 141%.
And not 30 minutes from where we’re standing right now, last school here in the affluent community of Harriman, Utah, at one school, eight kids took their life.
I want to share with you a message I got from a couple of ER doctors. One was here in Salt Lake, one in Oregon.
The one in Oregon said, “Collin, every pediatric suicide attempt and completion, the kids will attribute to one of two things.
Number one, my parent took my phone.
Number two, cyber-bullying on social media.”
He said, “we recently had a girl, a suicide completion who overdosed on over the counter medication simply because dad took her phone. She was 11.”
An ER Doc in salt Lake told me this. He said, “We recently had a girl, a suicide attempt, because she found out her parents said, you’re going to summer camp for a month, kayaking and fishing and hiking with a bunch of teenagers for a whole month and you can’t bring your phone by the way. And when she heard that with no mental history, she lashed out, slashed her wrist and her thighs and she needed 27 stitches.”
And the doctor said, “Collin, we were only semi shocked. We see this every day.”
Experts say that handing a smartphone with social media and untethered access to these apps with no training or no guidance is like handing them the keys to a car with no driver’s Ed.
So how do we sit here in shock wondering why kids are crashing and burning every single day?
I’m going to share this message right here. The best friend of the 8th victim at Harriman sent me this the day after he died.
She said, “Collin, we’re not a hundred percent sure as to why he chose to end his life at such a young age. But I know for a fact 100% that social media had something to do with it.”
I hate the social media does this to us. People including myself, need to make sure that what we’re sharing promotes positivity and not toxic perfectionism.
Dr. Jean Twenge wrote a book called iGen where she studied thousands of teenagers and the effect that screen time and social media have on their mental health. And she said, we are on the verge of the greatest public health crisis this generation has ever seen. Thatwas two years ago. We are no longer verging. The verge is here.
I’d like to share one more message from a teenage girl. She said “Collin, I got a phone when I was 11 and got social media right then. How crazy is that? Everything evil was at my fingertips, accounts on my feed that promoted pornography, self-harm, anorexia. It destroyed me. I was hooked.”
She said, “Wish my parents would have monitored me so they could have saved me from his darkness. I dealt with suicide attempts, anxiety, depression, and anorexia, all because of social media. It took away my innocence. It taught me to hate who I am today.”
Smartphones is social media where we hand them to our kids. It is literally stealing their joy. It’s robbing them from the ability to create and feel real connection instead of dealing with their emotions and their feelings head on, kids are just scrolling their phones to numb their pain and their feelings, which is robbing them of resiliency.
Spending time on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat when you’re 13 just teach her that you’ll never be enough. You’ll never be skinny enough or pretty enough or good enough, that your worth isn’t inherent, but its contingent upon virtual likes, follower counts, filters in streets.
This 24*7 constant access to peer culture is opening up a door and a wave of cyber bullying and social anxiety that we have never seen. And kids today are choosing to self-harm as a coping mechanism and as a way to get attention more than we’ve ever seen before.
Just last week in the UK, they released the research, a study that said that one out of four children aged 14 are self-harming, citing pressure from social media to be perfect as the cause.
And a pediatrician right here in Utah, He said, “Collin, 10 years ago, our typical day was treating kids new headings who had tonsillitis and flus and colds and fevers. But now me and all of my peers, we’ve had to hire full time social workers and psychiatrists to work on site because we cannot keep up with this epidemic.”
And of course cyber bullying has become a huge crisis. Our kid’s entire self-worth at 13 is determined by virtual unpredictable feedback. The validation that we all crave to them is only available in this synthetic way.
Their social standing and their self-esteem is determined by a like on an Instagram photo. And one mistake, one tiny gaffe that we all made as 13 year olds every day when we were kids was forgotten in an hour. There’s now publicly housed on the school Snapchat page.
When you’re 13 today, there is no place to run. There’s no escape and it is soul-crushing.
So what is the answer? How do we save the kids from this screen induced public health crisis?
Yes, we have to have tough conversations about what is the proper age to hand our children this technology and these devices. We have to look at countries like France’s examples, who just passed a bill this year banning smartphones from public schools nationwide.
It’s time that we start talking to the tech education companies who have duped school boards and school administrators into the notion that screen based learning is only for the child’s benefits, when the research is starting to prove otherwise.
We have to stand up to the big tech companies who are creating products and games and apps, that are deliberately exploiting and manipulating our kids all for insane profit.
We have got to put on the brakes and ask them tough questions, but the answer of ‘how do we save these kids’ is that we can’t, until we first save ourselves.
We as adults and as parents, we have to break free from our screen dependency and our social media addiction. We have to start modeling healthy digital behavior for our kids who don’t hear us, they see us. We have to teach them from our example that our worth; that our self-esteem doesn’t depend on likes on a photo.
We have to teach them from our example that it’s okay to show the world that we’re not okay. That we all feel alone and inadequate. Sometimes the day just sucks and we can share that. Even though social media taught us not to. We have to be more aware of how our digital behavior is affecting our kids.
I want to share one more message from a 13 year old girl. She said, “Collin, I grew up with the typical good parents. They gave me everything I needed physically, but now that I’m a teenager, I have never felt more distance and it’s not because of me who you’d think as a teenager. It’s because I can’t get my mom and dad off their stupid phone. I can’t get them to get off Facebook and Instagram to ask me about my day or talk to me about my feelings. I have never felt more unloved and uncared for all because of his stupid phone.”
Eight months ago, one of my four kids or cry pods as I call them, my 10 year old was really struggling. She was acting defiance all the time and she at home was just mad. And I didn’t know why.
And the confusing part is we went to parent teacher conference and the teacher said, “Your daughter is a total angel. She’s the best child in class. In fact, I’m going to give her an award for the most helpful students.”
My wife and I looked at ourselves, we’re like, ‘do you have two Quincy’s?’
One day after work, I came home and she was yelling at her sister, hitting her brother, yelling at her mom. She’s 10. She went into the bedroom and slammed the door and I lost it. I walk into the room and “I go, what is wrong? Why are you so mad? Why are you doing such good things at school but you make it such bad choices at home.”
And this little precious human being looked at me with tears in her eyes. She said, “Why do you love your phone more than you love me?”
That was the only wake-up call I needed. I set a rule for myself right there. Then from that point on, my kids would never see me on a phone ever. If we went to a tee ball game or we went to a dance recital, they would see my eyes at them, not looking down at a screen.
I even went and bought one of these. Have you guys seen these? Do you know what this is?
<Showing flip phone to audience>
You can make a call. You can end the call. You can do that. There’s so much functionality. And I take it with me when I go home, so there’s literally no distractions. When I get home from work now, instead of pulling out my phone and sit on the couch and scrolling the endless point of Twitter, or checking emails, I put my phone in a drawer. I grab that little tiny human, I sit on my lap and I ask her, ‘how was your day?’ And as she’s telling me, I try my best to not even blink.
One thing amazing happened when I did this. All of the defiance and anger stop right then. Because she felt love and connection.
I realized at that moment that when I had my phone out in front of my kids, she didn’t know that I was answering emails to make money so she could go to dance, right. She didn’t know that I was talking to clients so we could go to Disneyland one day. She didn’t know that I was crushing virtual candy. The only thing she saw was what; and this was out in front of her, is that, that means more to my dad than I do.
Kids today are amazing. I talk to thousands every month and they’re incredible. They are resilient. They are bright, they are savvy, and they’re tolerant. But they are growing up in a world that is peculiar and scarier than any of us could ever imagine.
And they need now more than ever from you and me to be seen, to be heard and to be loved. And if they don’t get that from home because our eyes are down here, they can get a pretty good synthetic version of that on their screen.
So, for the people are saying, when is the appropriate age to give little Johnny a cell phone? When do I give Johnny a smartphone? My reply is always, when you are okay with him to start looking at pornography.
When should I get little Katie an Instagram account? My reply is, when are you okay with her to start feeling anxiety and question her self-worth.
Because the minute we hand our kids these devices is the time they stopped being a kid.
So for the parents out there who feel stuck, who feel like your son or daughter is too far gone down this rabbit-hole, let me offer some hope.
In February, I got a message from a mom. Let me just say this. ‘Instantly, everything changed. We went from defiant daughter and disengaged daddy to best friends.”
This mom sent me this message. She said, “Collin, we had to take our daughter to the ER because she was suicidal and she’s now in a mental facility. This is a parent’s biggest nightmare. I have 100% know it’s because of Instagram, Snapchat, text messaging and social media. That’s why we’re here. She struggled with anxiety and depression since seventh grade, oddly enough, when we gave her a smartphone. “
I waited two months and when she got back to me and I said, “What happened?”
She said, all we did was we took her off social media. That’s it. This is what happened.
She said, “She ended all of her toxic relationships on her own. She tells me she loves me all the time. She says she’s happy all the time. Her future goals have changed. She’s not anxious to move out. Her grades have improved. She has more confidence. She looks and acts differently. She’s even taken responsibility. She is 17.”
It is never too late to step up and be a parent.
So the answer, how do we save the kids from this screen induced public health crisis therein is that we have to first save ourselves and reconnect with them. So if this message hasn’t inspired you, I hope it’s at least opened your eyes a little bit.
My challenge to you is tonight, when you go home is to put your phone in a drawer, Grab that little human who lives in your home, who eats all your food, plop her on your lap, ask her how her day was, and as she’s telling you, try to not even blink.
– Collin Kartchner