Every day my inbox fills up with emails from public relations firms looking for a plug for an author book or a new children’s study. I erase most of them as fast as they appear, but I almost always read those of youth and mental health.
Suffice it to say that the findings are not good. I often think about it, as we have a whole series of grandchildren (none of whom still have a cell phone) about to enter adolescence.
There is a corollary between the increasing popularity of screens among teenagers and the feelings of isolation, loneliness, depression and the indescribable.
The digital age has been a phenomenal asset for businesses and industry. It has put libraries and the world at our fingertips. But we will always be humans made for other humans, from the first breath of life.
In a few days after birth, the pupils in the eyes of newborns often enlarge when they connect with the mother’s face. Pupil enlargement is a physiological response to happiness and pleasure. In the case of a newborn, this pleasure is to recognize a familiar face and feel a food can soon follow. A baby can feel the goodness of human presence, touch and care. We all can.
The opposite of this human connection would be feelings of isolation, loneliness, and depression.
If the teen accused of perpetrating horror and evil in Buffalo, New York, is like others who have committed similar atrocities, they will probably find that he is a loner who has spent an excessive amount of time online and on the sidelines.
Only a tiny fraction of those who spend too much time online are baffled, but the digital revolution has had an impact on all of us, our families, and our relationships. Phones and screens can connect us in wonderful ways and shorten the miles between us, but they also separate and divide us. We can now be in the same room with each other but separate worlds. Sometimes literally.
Greater privacy measures, and even dark vaults of secrecy, are available at younger ages.
Phones have shifted from accessories to central command centers. Our response time to every noise, ringing and vibration makes Pavlov’s dogs look like dogs.
In researching his wonderful book, The Tech-Wise Family, author Andy Crouch asked teens what was the only thing they would like to change about their relationship with their parents if they could.
The number one answer was that they wanted their parents to spend less time on the phone and more time talking to them.
Young people are not the only ones struggling with the limits of screen time.
A mother of three teenagers and I were talking about phones, screens and the dark side of social media. He wondered if some of the devastating effects had become evident enough to make the next generation wiser, more demanding, a little wiser.
They could. But parents will have to lead the way.
Lori Borgman is a columnist, author and speaker. Her new book, What Happens at Grandma’s Stays at Grandma’s House, is now available. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.