There has been a recent surge in research on technology use among iGen youth (also called Generation Z, the children born just after Millennials and between 1995 and 2010). Some concerning statistics are beginning to emerge, including higher-than-anticipated rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts. This is the very first generation to grow up with ever-present smartphones and smart technology. There are benefits to this, of course, and some schools have made impressive strides in implementing state-of-the-art technology in the classroom to capitalize on these. However, many parents are unaware of the ways constant smartphone use, including social media, may be harming their children. In many cases, cell phones have replaced face-to-face interaction and kids experience significant isolation and loneliness as a result. Parents need to be aware of these potential downfalls and take steps to ensure kids are engaging in the kinds of activities that contribute to positive psychological well-being.
Need some tips?
1. Delay smartphone use if possible among children and adolescents. For safety, you can give kids a flip phone (yes, these still exist!) for communication. You know your kid best--wait until your child has demonstrated the level of trust and responsibility required to own a smartphone. Remember: a smartphone is so much more than just a phone. It is complete access to an online world; young children do not yet have the ability to comprehend the impact of this.
2. Develop a cell phone/smart phone contract with your child that outlines expectations and rules for its use. Examples of these can be found online and they should include limits around the amount of time spent on the phone, where the phone is stored in the house outside of these hours, how data is to be used responsibly, and who has access to the phone. Many professionals recommend parents monitor their children's phone in some capacity and this can be outlined in the contract too. (Adolescents do need some privacy, but the importance of protecting all children from cyberbullying, online predators, etc. outweighs this. Say something like, "I trust you to be responsible and will not check your phone all the time, but it is also my job to help keep you safe.")
3. MODEL HEALTHY SMARTPHONE AND TECHNOLOGY USE AT HOME! Your kids are watching and picking up on the example you set with your own smartphone use. Make efforts to be present and offline when at home and expect your kids to do the same. Put your phone away when you get home and engage in face-to-face activities with your family.
4. Ensure that cell phone/social media use is not used as a replacement for real interactions. Kids thrive when they are interacting face-to-face with one another. Encourage and facilitate this as often as possible.
Here are additional articles with information about smartphone use and its impact on our youth:
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