When I look at my classmates’ faces, absorbed in their smartphones, they look eerily expressionless, even hollow. Their eyes look tired and droopy; their faces look drained and sulking. They look like they have no choice. It is almost as if they are compelled by some unseen force to use every second of the time limit their parents have set on their devices. I cannot help but think of them as stuck in quicksand. They are not even trying to get out of it! I think my fellow classmates, and most middle school students and teens, are addicted to smartphones.
Smartphones have taken over our society. According to 2019 data, 53% of American children own a smartphone by the time they are 11 years old. 84% of teenagers own a smartphone. I have read many news reports in which researchers claim that smartphones can be fun and educational for children and teens and help them socialize with others. As a middle school student who sees the negative impacts of excessive smartphone usage in school, I strongly disagree with these claims.
First, excessive smartphone usage causes students to have a distractive personality. The constant buzzing of new messages turns the student’s attention toward the phone and away from the teacher. Students tend to lose their attention easily and cannot focus on what is being taught in class. Even when their phones are not buzzing, their attention seems to be directed toward the phone.
Smartphones and other devices are designed to be addictive. For example, in many video games, players are shown their own and their competitors’ scores. Children want to beat other players’ scores. Children may not know this, but their ambition to beat others in the game causes them to keep on playing the game. Sometimes children lose sleep over games, which can be very harmful to their health. Another example of how smartphones are designed to be addictive is the way the apps notify the users when their post has been liked or commented on. It makes children feel pressured to keep on posting more pictures so that people continue to like their pictures. No wonder the children in my school are hooked.
Second, smartphones can really hurt children’s mental health. Children can lose self-esteem because of hurtful things on the internet. They can fall behind in their studies and suffer academically. They are so distracted that they are not able to keep up with the work in school, which affects their grades. This can cause them to be depressed. Children who are lonely in school turn to their smartphones to distract themselves or make friends online, but that does not seem to help. When children are on their phones so much, they don’t socialize with people around them. As a result, they have trouble working in teams. They are unable to ask for help when they need it. They are unable to develop healthy relationships with others. This causes them to plunge into their devices even more; the cycle goes on.
Parents must take the responsibility for these consequences because they are the ones who choose to give their children smartphones. Some parents think that by setting time limits and parental controls they can control their child(ren)'s phone use. I think this just makes things worse. Students in my school use all the time they have on their smartphones until their time limit goes off. They seem to be waiting for that time in the day when they can use their smartphones; they are the first thing they reach for at lunchtime. This machine seems to immerse them. Sometimes I imagine them turning into a machine.
Why do parents give their children smartphones? This question has been haunting me and I think I finally know the answer now. Parents want to have a good relationship with their children, so they give them everything they want to make them happy. Parents may also think that their child is growing up and they deserve to have a smartphone. It is possible that their child is nagging them to have a smartphone because their friends have it. Some parents want their children to be able to communicate with them or contact them. Some others may think that there are many advantages to using smartphones, including playing games, socializing, having fun, and learning. Yet others may think their children are not susceptible to these kinds of behaviors. Others might think the disadvantages are minor. I do not think any of these are good enough reasons to give your child a smartphone because of all the severely negative impacts it can have on a child.
In my experience, most children my age do not know how to control their smartphone usage. I only know of one student in my class who has a smartphone but does not bring it to school. At home, she uses it to listen to music while doing homework. I suspect that she is the exception.
It breaks my heart to see children not being children, and students not being students. Children are missing social and academic experiences in school. They are getting into patterns of behavior that are hurting them now and will hurt them in the future. I urge parents not to give their children smartphones at such a young age. Give children their childhood back.