To young, developing minds, social media can be just as harmful as underage drinking, driving, and firearm use. At least that’s what many experts told me while researching Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting. Having witnessed the declining mental health and fortitude of children in recent years, I believe it.
But it’s not just children that are suffering and social media isn’t the only unregulated problem. Smartphone, internet, and online gaming use in general can be just as toxic, especially for children and upwards of 50% of American adults (myself included).
Most people already know or suspect this, but many don’t know what to do about it. The default policy is to do nothing. And that’s a problem. For example, many phone users simply let the phone manufacturer (such as Apple or Google) dictate when and how often their lives are interrupted by the apps that want their attention almost every minute of the day. Or they give their kids phones in elementary and middle school to stay connected without understanding that such access can actually be a lot more harmful to their development and innocence. Both are detrimental.
In short, having a healthy relationship with your phone, social media, internet, and online gaming is all about setting boundaries for yourself and your children. It’s why I don’t give my kids restricted smartphones until they’re 15 (many Silicon Valley executives withhold them until age 16). It’s why they have to wait to until they’re 18 to join social media (and even then I’ll encourage them not to). It’s why I limit my son’s online gaming to no more than 45 minutes a few times per week.
Simply put, we must treat smartphones, social media, internet, and online gaming liked we would any other banned or restricted substance or product for youth. Drugs, alcohol, firearms, pornography, underage driving—you name it. I don’t know if policy makers will (or even can) regular digital experiences. But until that day, each of us can be the regulators in our homes.
Doing so can be hard. I get it. Sometimes it’s temping to use bottomless screens as free babysitting. But I promise the fight is worth it. Consider this your pep talk as we head into warmer weather.