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Outsmarting Smartphones: Reflections for Liberty Families

Outsmarting Smartphones: Reflections for Liberty Families
Jeremy Tullius, LCHS English Instructor

Liberty Common High School has a strict prohibition on the use of personal electronics and mobile devices during school hours (cf. Policy 4.10 in the Student/Parent Handbook).  The reasons for this are fairly obvious: academic integrity, student privacy, reduced distractions, etc.  However, the dangers such devices can pose outside of the classroom deserve equal (if not greater) attention.  It falls to parents, however, to navigate the ever-changing and often insidious online world in a way that not only optimizes their child’s education, but contributes to his or her general flourishing.  This short admonition seeks only to provide some important considerations that may be useful to the Liberty Common community in holding fast to our shared mission (see also Mr. Siener’s article “Students Unplugged” in What Every Liberty Parent Needs to Know).

In her book iGen (2017), social psychologist Jean Twenge catalogues some alarming trends associated with smartphones and the levels of social media use they make possible.  Below are just a few of the disturbing revelations from her research.  In some cases, the studies show that the regularity of one’s social networking not only correlates with, but also contributes to the following issues:
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Poor Mental Health:  There has been a marked increase in depression, anxiety, loneliness, sleeplessness, and self-destructive behavior among those who report high levels of engagement with online platforms, especially as they displace in-person contact.
 
Lack of Responsibility:  Current teenagers are less likely to seek independence from parents, desire a driver’s license, get a job, or go out on dates.  The time commitment for such pursuits is now often replaced with online activities, impeding some of the processes which will help them become competent adults.
 
Social Impairment:  Twenge worries that “in the next decade we may see more young people who know just the right emoji for a situation—but not the right facial expression.”  We now exist in a culture where we can avoid in-person contact almost without trying.  In consequence, children have less drive and fewer opportunities to practice their social skills. 
 
Other Dangers:  Although Twenge’s book does not address violations of privacy, online predators, commercial manipulation, or pornography, other researchers decry these and other pitfalls that await the naïve or careless internet user.  Social media platforms exist largely to mine data for advertisers and train users in attitudes and assumptions that make them docile consumers, vulnerable to marketing techniques and ideological exploitation. 
 

So what can we do?

We cannot return to a pre-internet age, so we need to develop the wisdom and discipline to engage in our modern economy.  Many families have already instituted effective habits in the home to help Liberty students optimize their academic and personal well-being.  Here are a few to consider:
  • Don’t just negate—replace:  The best way to limit screen time and social-media usage is to have positive alternatives such as sports, clubs, art, music, family game nights, church services, and/or volunteer work, etc.—these tend to promote healthy thoughts and behaviors.
  • Bedtimes:  Enforce consistent and reasonable bedtimes.  Good sleep is critical for mental and physical health.  Keep screens out of the bedroom.
  • Screen limits:  Have some house rules about phone and tablet usage.  The recommendation among medical professionals is two hours or less per day.
  • Screen locations:  Consider keeping all phones/screens in a common area or main level.  Keep smartphones out of the bedroom, where use can disrupt sleep routines and encourage other bad habits. 
  • App restrictions:  Most phones have options that allow parents to restrict which apps they can use and for how long.  Given the data on social media use, consider eliminating any access to Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, etc.  If you cannot do that, restrict the number of platforms and set clear time limits.  You are doing your child a favor.
  • Age limits:  Early adolescents are especially vulnerable to negative consequences.  Consider waiting to give your children phones until they are driving, and then only a heavily locked-down (or “dumb”) phone.  They can still call or text you on a flip phone.
  • Regular exercise:  Aside from being a non-screen activity, regular exercise is an absolutely irreplaceable good in the growth and betterment of the whole person. 
It is never too late to establish healthy habits in your home.  Have a family conversation about it, and allow your children to offer their input.  Talk to other families and see what works for them.  Do not let your children drift mindlessly with the cultural current, but teach them the discipline to navigate the dangers now while your support can help them build proper habits; then they will be equipped to do the same for their own children one day.

 

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