May 2024

Children’s Phone Use Isn’t Always Harmful, Despite Beliefs

The first thing my 8-year-old son does in the morning is go to the Duolingo website on his iPhone to study Spanish. The last thing he does at night is play eight games of Word Chums, the Scrabble-like game.

His vocabulary in both languages is growing in leaps and bounds.

I bring this up because there’s a new best-selling book out by Jonathan Haidt called “The Anxious Generation” that basically blames our kids’ mental health problems on the preponderance of smartphones. He claims depression, anxiety and suicide picked up in 2012 when the phones became omnipresent.

“The phone-based life produces spiritual degradation, not just in adolescents but in all of us,” he writes.

I don’t buy it. Do you?

Now, I was very much against getting my boy a phone at such a young age. It was his mother’s idea. But now, I realize she was right and I’m all for it as long as we carefully monitor what he does on it. And we do.

Yes, he watches some of the most annoying things ever on YouTube sometimes, mostly kids filming themselves playing video games. I want to scream when I hear them, as we sit at the kitchen table, me working and him on the phone.

But then the other day we were on a drive and he asked me what I thought was the tallest building in the world. Frankly, I had no idea. So, he started lecturing me on the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which I’d never heard of. He knew all about it and the other nine tallest structures from a video he’d watched on YouTube.

That was when I realized I’d lost the smartphone battle and won a new perspective. They can be used for good, and for him anyway, are as valuable as things he’s taught in school.

He wanted to make stop action movies with his Lego mini figures. I worked with him some on it, but wasn’t very good at it. He learned more by doing it himself with smartphone video coaching.

And then there’s his Virtual Reality headset, which again, I was against. But he’s made some really good friends playing games on it and we carefully monitor who he’s talking to. It’s nothing like I feared and in fact, in moderation, it’s a great thing.

So, while if I hadn’t seen these things for myself, I would have bought into Haidt’s theories. I now realize he’s capitalizing on the same type of fears earlier generations passed on: TV will rot your kids’ brains. Video games will make them violent and antisocial. Hard rock music will make them killers. Computers will make them housebound and unhealthy. Social media is ruining their self confidence…you name it.

None of those things were as bad as they made them out to be and in fact, keeping up with the current technology is not only positive, it can be useful for their studies and careers.

I’m not saying you should let them run rampant on phones or not encourage them to do plenty of nondigital things, but in moderation and with careful parenting, they can be valuable. At least that’s what I’ve seen.

And on a lighter note, when I can’t figure out how to use my phone or the TV remote, now I’ve got a techie in the house.

And don’t forget, KIDS DAY is downtown Santa Cruz May 4, noon to 4pm. Schools, camps, after school programs and more will have booths and entertainment as families take over the heart of the city. It’s a great event and we’ll be there giving out temporary tattoos, photos with characters and copies of this magazine with a map in them.

Thanks for reading,

Brad Kava,
Editor and Publisher

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