High school students from four St. Louis-area districts gathered on a Saturday afternoon in mid-May to figure out what, exactly, they need in their lives to thrive as students. Among their answers: They need less stress and more free time.
One major item didn't get a mention on their list. The same major source of stress in their lives also is the culprit for why they feel they don't have enough time: pervasive technology.
The average teen's attention to screen time, about nine hours a day, according to one study, robs them of time in the real world — quality time performing the tasks that build intellect, character and verbal communication skills. When they're staring at their screens, they aren't talking face-to-face with their friends or family members.
Stresses skyrocket when they see themselves depicted online in an unfavorable light. A misunderstood text or tweet can turn friends into enemies. Obsessions build over the number of Twitter followers or Facebook friends a teen has. Depression can set in. They become sleep-deprived. Grades falter.
Go to any mall, park or museum and take stock of the young (and, yes, old) faces staring into their screens rather than enjoying their surroundings. At restaurants, look at the number of couples immersed in something on their phones instead of each other.
This technology addiction is fed by the Silicon Valley moguls who created Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram and iPhones. And what are Silicon Valley parents deciding as the antidote to this tech-obsessed world? They are banning it from their own children's lives.
They are enforcing such bans with a level of militancy that suggests they see something the rest of us don't. Some Silicon Valley parents have installed "nanny cams" specifically to monitor when nannies might be exposing the children under their care to phones, computers or televisions.
"I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children," Athena Chavarria told The New York Times last October. She should know, having worked as an executive assistant at Facebook and founder Mark Zuckerberg's philanthropic arm.
Apple chief executive Tim Cook believes technology should be limited in schools. He restricts his nephew's social media access. Bill and Melinda Gates banned their kids from using cellphones until they were teenagers. Melinda Gates wished she had extended the ban longer.
Many parents fret justifiably that cutting off technology and cellphone access could mean not being able to reach their kids in emergencies. One option is a return to the old flip-phone.
But it's a clear warning sign, if Silicon Valley parents see dangers in the technology they helped create, that the rest of us should consider giving our kids a long, healthy break from technology. A big, beautiful world surrounds them. What a tragedy to miss it because a screen keeps blocking their view.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Photo credit: fredrikwandem at Pixabay