Are Mobile Devices and Social Media Turning Our Kids into Zombies?

In today’s technological age, everyone is worried that their children are becoming digital zombies. We have a precious granddaughter who’s a year and a half, but we’ve noticed that when we turn on the TV, she becomes locked in, as if she’s hypnotized. I read a study recently that reveals 8th graders typically check social media 100 times a day. But there’s never been any actual research to support our worries. But now,that research exists.

The Wall Street Journal reports “In a paper coming out in November, the journal “Perspectives in Psychological Science,” Madeleine George and Candice Odgers at Duke University review the scientific evidence we have so far about the effects of social media on adolescents. They found that teenagers are indeed pervasively immersed in the digital world. In one survey, teenagers sent an average of 60 texts a day, and 78% of them owned an Internet-connected mobile phone. But the researchers also found little evidence to support parents’ fears. Their conclusion is that teenagers’ experience in the mobile world largely parallels rather than supplants their experience in the physical world. Teenagers mostly use mobile devices to communicate with friends they already know offline. They can have bad online experiences, but they are the same sort of bad experiences they have offline.”

The bottom line is that – at least so far – the digital world hasn’t impacted our children in a negative way.  Just in case you can’t quite believe it, the Journal added “Two large-scale surveys done in 2007 and 2013 in the Netherlands and Bermuda, involving thousands of adolescents, found that teenagers who engaged in more online communication also reported more and better friendships, and smaller studies bear this out as well. There is no sign at all that friendships have changed or suffered as mobile use has risen.”

In my opinion, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t worry – at least a bit.  But at least it’s actual data that goes against our fears.

The writer of the Journal piece, Alison Gopnik, adds another interesting perspective:
“The other day, a newspaper writer joined the chorus of angry voices about the bad effects of new technology. “There can be no rational doubt that [it] has caused vast injury.” It is “superficial, sudden, unsifted, too fast for the truth.” The day was in 1858, and the quote was about the telegraph. Similarly, the telephone, radio and television have each in turn been seen as a source of doom.”

My advice? Relax.  We all adapt. Anything can be overdone.

Plus, hold off as long as possible before they get their own mobile device, and ALWAYS, always talk to them about how it works, and what they need to be thinking about.

But for now at least, there’s no great cause for alarm.   What’s been your experience?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Adam Niven

    Great research to share Phil. And I like the advice for parents…but in our day and age it’s just making sure computer = smartphone, tablet, itouch, etc,etc. As a father of a couple of pre-teen/teenage boys who are venturing into this new space, we’re working through the kinds of rules we want to agree to as a family so that everyone looks out for each other…it’s not just kids who can get drawn into online spaces they shouldn’t be in, and having family accountability is a great way to have a collective shared journey of responsibility, rather than just us (as parents) “laying down the rules”

  • Here’s an interesting coda to the story. From today’s Wall Street Journal (10-13-15) –

    In a nod to the changing nature of digital media and technology, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced this month that it is starting the process of revising its ironclad guidelines for children and screens.
    For more than 15 years it has advised parents to avoid screen time completely for children under the age of 2, and to limit screen time to no more than two hours a day for children older than 2.
    “In a world where ‘screen time’ is becoming simply ‘time,’ our policies must evolve or become obsolete,” the AAP’s media committee wrote in an article published this month in the publication AAP News, which circulates to the academy’s 64,000 members.

    • Paul Forkner

      And now I see this! Wow, I really should read the whole page before commenting!

      I did see this WSJ article yesterday. Part of me wonders if the AAP is compromising to simply stay relevant. In other words, since few parents are going to actually keep to the no screen time under age 2, let’s modify it to make it achievable, even though it really would be better to keep the policy as is.

      Sure, FaceTime with Grandma isn’t the same as a 2 year old playing Angry Birds for 2 hours – but I have a feeling the AAP isn’t going to just come out and say – Same Policy, but its now ok to FaceTime.

  • Paul Forkner

    Thank you very much for this piece. This issue is very important to my wife, and to a bit lesser extent, to me. Our children are 4 and 2 years old and so far they’ve had effectively zero screen time – whether TV, computer, tablet, smartphone. My wife is a huge proponent of other forms of play and activity, and frankly fears that our childrens brains will not develop as well if they spend time in front of screens. I hold to a different view, although to this point I’ve not seen any reason to permit or encourage screen time as our kids have plenty of toys, puzzles, coloring books, etc to feed their young minds. That said, on long trips I would sure like to give the kids the option of watching some age appropriate videos. I don’t think this piece will necessarily change anything for us now, but perhaps down the road my wife and I can be a little more aligned that some of the anti-screen stuff is probably overblown.
    Thank you.

    • Paul Forkner

      Now that I think more clearly about your piece – I’m thinking screen time for young children really isn’t directly a part of it.
      Perhaps a good idea for a future piece.

      Thank you.

      • Did you read my “coda” in the comments? That might help regarding younger kids.

        • Paul Forkner

          Just did. Thanks.

  • Jason Cooper

    I want to dig into the articles a little more, really understand the methodology, what they were looking to measure. Was it only about relationships? Hopefully I can do that soon. In the meantime, where we have landed as parents it almost completely avoiding the brainless time wasters like video games. We don’t own a gaming system, and restrict what we have on our tablets/phones. My kids will all play sudoku which seems a better option than a racing game (for example). My kids love to play outside and read books. Yet they do have quite a bit of screen time between TV, DVD’s, and tablets. But we limit the king of things they can watch and do on these devices. And none of them have their own devices. And we don’t intend for that to change anytime soon. Having a shared device forces a limit. And we like that.

    • I agree that content is a big part of the equation. This research indicates the fact that they use mobile devices isn’t a huge concern. However, what they’re watching on those devices is…

  • Richard J Fairhead

    ‘Teenagers mostly use mobile devices to communicate with friends they already know offline.’

    This was exactly my thesis in a paper I wrote a few years back which I called ‘Bursting the second dot com bubble’. When I started using the Internet some 25-30 years ago we made new friends through the Internet and discussion was among those new friends. Now it has morphed into developing existing (real life) relationships. This is very significant for many Christian groups who want to ‘reach out’ to non-Christians over the Internet. Relationships don’t work that way any more. The second dot com bubble has burst.

    Mission groups are almost all seeing a drop in numbers of relationships over the Internet. I don’t mean they are not seeing response, but I mean they are not seeing relationships built that allow discipling to take place. Now young people share among their group. We have seen this — when we post something on Facebook we see less discussion with us, and more ‘shares’ with their friends where they discuss it among themselves.

    • Great point Richard. We are seeing a confirmation that we stay in “bubbles.” Even in social media, we follow friends and/or people who think the way we do. We’re not as divers as we think… :-)

  • This is the large question is technology makes our child so brilliant? And are we able to tech them the proper use of technology? I think this should be need to think and be aware about this.

  • This is the large question is technology makes our child so brilliant? And are we able to tech them the proper use of technology? I think this should be need to think and be aware about this.