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“Why doesn’t my phone work?” Laura asked yesterday as we got farther from home. I guess we didn’t think to mention that would happen. “I’m a fifteen-year-old girl!” she said in (mostly) mock protest when we explained.


It made me think of a widely circulated article I read recently on the empirical effects of adolescent phone usage. (You should check it out — link below.)


“Across a range of behaviors — drinking, dating, spending time unsupervised — 18-year-olds now act more like 15-year-olds used to, and 15-year-olds more like 13-year-olds. Childhood now stretches well into high school … The number of eighth-graders who work for pay has been cut in half.”¹


We don’t say it to our kids but Jessica and I have been known to say to each other, “when I was their age, I remember doing” X, Y and Z, more grown-up things. We don’t harp on the kids about it because it’s not obviously good or bad; more like one of those cultural things.


But the article continues …


“The Monitoring the Future survey … has asked 12th-graders more than 1,000 questions every year since 1975 and queried eighth- and 10th-graders since 1991 … The results could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy. There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness.”


It goes beyond just happiness.


“Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011 … The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression … Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide … This trend has been especially steep among girls. Forty-eight percent more girls said they often felt left out in 2015 than in 2010, compared with 27 percent more boys … Girls have also borne the brunt of the rise in depressive symptoms among today’s teens. Boys’ depressive symptoms increased by 21 percent from 2012 to 2015, while girls’ increased by 50 percent.”


All that being said, we haven’t detected much of this with our kids. Exchange student Laura seems always positive and outgoing. Brenna can get a bit obsessed with screen things but she recovers quickly when we boot her off. It’s a slippery issue to deal with as a parent.


¹ Jean M. Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” The Atlantic (Sep. 2017):

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Taken on September 17, 2017