How smart phones can erode self-confidence and thwart independence (and why you might be having a hard time intervening)

How smart phones can erode self-confidence and thwart independence (and why you might be having a hard time intervening)

Soooo much fun!

I’ve just downloaded the Best Wallpaper Ever. This free app turns my sleek and shiny smartphone into a miniature aquarium, complete with on/off bubble aerator, ten underwater scenes to choose from, and a selection of tropical fish that allows me to click not only which ones I want, but how many of each. It’s eye candy, especially on my extra-large screen; I’m pretty sure it’s better than the real thing. A beautiful, stress-relieving undersea scene, with me at all times – and, unlike our old clunky aquarium, doesn’t even need to be cleaned.

Also “with me at all times,” are google search, an infinite store of apps to shop, and, most powerful, all of my friends are reachable with just a tap or a text. Kindle, Nook, Netflix – this is by far the best toy I have ever had. I could become addicted.

Maybe you can feel the possibility of addiction, too. It definitely happens to kids, and the age that it happens keeps dropping.

Providing the support your daughter needs requires you to feel all right – good, even – about setting limits and, at times, saying no.

It’s obvious that I love my smartphone. And my laptop, my tablet, my Kindle, and yes, Facebook. They provide access to a wealth of knowledge and entertainment, a way of connecting with friends whom I might otherwise lose track of — and they play an important part in my safety. The problem is that we’ve swung so far in the direction of “Why not, what harm could it do?” — the habit of saying “yes” to pleas for today’s electronic gadgets – that we have lost track of what these gifts can take away.


Everyone’s got one. How can it hurt?

As much as smart phones and tablets give, they also, without doubt, take away. Used excessively, they can compromise self-reliance, responsibility, participation in activities that grow strength and character, face-to-face relationships, confidence, and, not least, sleep.

Not so long ago, when kids headed off to school in the morning, they were on their own in their “workplace”. There might have been a pay phone or two, and in a pinch the office would allow a phone call, but other than that, children had the responsibility to manage independently. Without a doubt, at times that was too harsh and isolating. But we’ve now moved to the opposite end of the continuum, and it’s also damaging. If homework is forgotten – or the required equipment for an after-school activity is still on the bedroom floor– just text mom. In a moment of angst, quickly text a friend. Kids – and adults, too – stand to become dependent on being constantly connected to a source of back-up and reassurance. The result: kids lose the the chance to learn that they are whole on their own. They lose the opportunity to develop clear boundaries of responsibility  — yours vs. hers — and the sense of competence and confidence that result when those boundaries take hold. Even independent, responsible teens are at risk, because they’re more likely to take on responsibility for the well-being of one or more peers by feeling ethically obligated to be present “24/7” for their friends who are having a hard time – and that hurts both.

But it doesn’t end there.


Designed to addict

Smart phones provide nonstop access to a sometimes malicious grapevine. It’s not at all unusual for girls to be texting a friend to critique a text conversation that is occurring simultaneously with another friend. It’s as if the mail carrier now comes every five seconds instead of once a day. Without a doubt, the intermittent reinforcement of finding a new messages is addicting — so are the truly cool visual and auditory notifications. If you doubt that, just watch people, adults and teens alike, checking their phones and sneaking in a text response right in the middle of absolutely any other activity. There is no doubt that this raises stress and anxiety — and a sometimes obsessive fear of missing out (FOMO). How many teens are having a hard time stepping away from all of this breaking news in order to get a full night’s sleep?

The reality is that smart phones are deliberately, calculatedly designed to addict. This is like leaving kids 24 hours a day in a candy shop with an ever-changing, overwhelmingly tantalizing selection. At every turn, there’s a new colorful, delicious concoction packaged so attractively as to be irresistible. It’s unrealistic to expect kids to manage this level of enticement without adult support.


Start with your own fears

But your own fears can get in the way of providing that needed support. What if your daughter’s friends are allowed to do things she’s not? What if everyone else has the latest gadget and your daughter feels left out? What if she can’t reach out to you when she wants to? What if she’s devastated by a cutting remark and she really, really needs to connect with her best friend right now? What if she’s excluded from the weekend social agenda because she doesn’t respond instantly to a text?


Put your goal into words

Providing the support your daughter needs requires you to feel all right – good, even – about setting limits and, at times, saying no. It takes your own gut level realization that over-dependence on electronic devices is harmful. When you feel that, limiting the harm is natural. Technology should enhance your daughter’s life without impeding her growth.


Cell Phone Safe Use Resource Sheet

Getting her electronics usage back on track and keeping your daughter safe online doesn’t have to feel like boot camp to your daughter. I’ve created a Cell Phone Resource Page for you (you can download below) to help you put together a simple, but powerful, agreement.  In it, I’ll show you some of the ways to help your girls enjoy that amazing candy store without staying up all night or becoming dependent. It takes a dash of structure combined with a large measure empathy and accurate understanding. As one mom so aptly observed, possibly because she had experienced this in her own childhood, “Structure without empathy results in an absence of joy.” So, instead of talking solely about “laying down the law,” begin a constructive conversation with your daughter that you can continue over time.