Family

Remove the smartphone, regain the child

John Rosemond, nationally syndicated advice columnist photographed at the Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., on July 16, 2013. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
John Rosemond, nationally syndicated advice columnist photographed at the Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., on July 16, 2013. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff Lexington Herald-Leader

As my readers know, I am opposed to children, including teenagers still living at home, to having smartphones. No parent has ever been able to give me a logical reason why a minor should enjoy such a privilege, if enjoy is even the proper word.

The most common rationale given is, “I want my child to be able to get in touch with me and vice versa.” If that is your best defense, purchase a basic cellphone and give it to your child on selective occasions. I’m referring to the sort of cellphone that will not connect to the internet, does not have a built-in camera, and is not text-friendly.

The evidence is mounting that smartphones are addictive to children and teenagers. Adults are able to keep their smartphones in their pockets unless some necessity arises. Human beings who are not yet adults seem unable to do so.

“But John, that is how teenagers communicate with one another” is a common parental defense, to which I respond, “Yes, and that is why their face-to-face communication skills are generally poor to awful.” Their eye contact is notoriously bad and when, in a face-to-face encounter, they begin feeling uncomfortable (which is often), what do they do? They pull out their smartphone and look at it while you are talking to them. I conclude that these devices interfere with the development of proper social skills.

I recently spent some time with two parents and their teenage child, who had a habit of taking out his cellphone and looking at it during a conversation. His parents told him to put the cellphone away at least five times in 15 minutes. They were exasperated. They are intelligent people, but living proof that common sense and intelligence do not go hand-in-hand.

On the positive side, I’ve spoken with several parents who have taken away their kids’ smartphones. They all testified to the sort of reaction typical of withdrawal from an addiction: tantrums, rages, mood swings and near-manic obsession. It takes two weeks, at least, for the addiction to run its course at which time, according to the parents, their children’s moods greatly improve (“He’s actually begun to seem like a happy kid again”), they begin engaging in family conversation and activities, demonstrate renewed sensitivity to other people’s feelings, and seem more relaxed. As yet, no parent has reported a downside.

One teenage boy eventually thanked his parents, telling them he felt better without a smartphone. Yes, a normal childhood is a wonderful thing. Every child’s right, in fact.

Where’s your common sense these days?

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website, Rosemond.com.

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