Welcome to Brouillette’s Blurb! In each blurb I will share with you topics relating to Cathedral and technology from the viewpoint of a teacher, a mom, and a daughter of God. This blurb is an “extended cut” of the shorter blurb you saw in last week’s News from the Nest. The focus is our daughters but I encourage parents of boys to read too.
A few weeks ago I listened to a podcast where the guest, Social Psychologist Jonathan Haidt referred to a study that was published by The JAMA Network an international peer-reviewed medical journal about a rise in suicide and self-harm from 2009-2015. The results are as follows:
- Major Depressive Episodes increased 15% in “Gen Z” female participants (15-19 years old), episodes increased 5% in “Millennial” female participants (20-24 years old).
- Self-Harm Episodes increased 62% in “Gen Z” participants, episodes increased 17% in “Millennial” female participants and episodes increased 189% in females 10-14 years old.
These numbers astounded me, I quickly pulled up the study on my computer and sure enough, there they were in black and white. Haidt continued by exploring ideas about why this is happening. It is important to note that the numbers were collected by hospitals and medical centers, not by self-reporting increasing the validity of the numbers. We know that with advancement in brain science the stigma of mental illness is diminishing as we learn more about which makes all numbers rise, but if that is the only reason then why the discrepancies in the age groups? Haidt suggests that smart phones and social media may play a significant role. Consider that by the time smart phones were affordable enough for a majority of teens to own them (2011) Millennials were well into high school, the angst-ridden years of middle school behind them. This is not the case with Gen Z.
Now I am fully aware that is correlative data and that in this day and age it seems you can find a study to back up almost any claim that you want to make but I see it, I see the change in your daughters. I see the hyper-charged relational aggression of middle school girls reaching far beyond the playground and hallways. I see their already insecure faces comparing their “physical beauty” to a filtered standard. I see constant scrolling outside of the school doors in the morning. And I see the look on their faces when they tell me that they heard they were excluded from the latest “class snap”.
I want to be clear, I am not anti-smartphone. The accessibility that these tiny computers offer is amazing. But they are just that-tiny computers connected to the world and we as parents need to acknowledge that. I am also not anti-social media, in fact I would say I am the opposite. I believe that social media, when used correctly offers us the chance to evangelize, share our stories and to connect with friends and family all over the world. Think about “Word on Fire”, “Ascension Press” and what we do to share the CRC story. But we have to consider the science. The frontal lobe of the brain, the area of the brain that controls executive function-impulse control, planning, thinking, reasoning and personality, isn’t fully developed until after the age of 20. Based upon that science and what I witness I’m simply not convinced that the brain of an elementary school or middle school student is prepared for what smartphones and social media expose them to.
What I find interesting is that so many of you come to me and say “I didn’t want to give her a smartphone but all of her friends have one and I didn’t want her to be left out.” I completely understand that sentiment. In a recent marketplace.org survey 82% of middle school parents said they didn’t want their teens to have smartphones. In addition, the creators of said technology aren’t letting their own children have it. So I wonder, are we as parents unintentionally exacerbating the “Fear of Missing Out Culture” in our children by saying yes?
So what do we do?
I have some ideas that I would like you to prayerfully consider:
- We pledge as a community to “Wait until 8th” and to wait even longer for social media. Wait until 8th is an organization encouraging parents to delay giving children smartphones until at least 8th grade. “By banding together, this will decrease the pressure felt by kids and parents alike over the kids having a smartphone.” This means parents of boys too! Sign the Wait Until 8th pledge. As a parent of a kindergartener I’ve already signed the pledge.
- Many of you have held back and not given your children a smartphone but some have given then other connected devices such as iPods and tablets. Please keep an eye on these devices too and be sure to use accountability and filtering software like Covenant Eyes.
- Connected devices should never be in your child’s bedroom at night. Our 3rd, 5th and 7th graders recently took a technology poll. 37% of 3rd graders reported having a connected device in their room with them at night, 44% of 5th graders reported the same and 69% of 7th graders. As my Grandma Barbie used to say “Nothing good happens after 10pm.” Don’t leave the temptation sitting on their nightstand.
- If you want your child to have a device to contact you consider a flip phone or watch that allows limited texting/talk, rather than jumping right to a smart phone.
- Model appropriate technology use in front of your children. I’ve spoken about this before but it is so important! In the same surveys I mentioned above it was evident that our children are spending similar amounts of time on devices as they see us. They mirror our behavior. And mom, I promise you that no matter how insecure you feel about yourself (we all do) that your daughters want to be just like you, so show them what it means to be a Christ-centered mother.
- Discuss your technology expectations with parents of your child’s friends. We should all respect those boundaries when scheduling playdates, birthday parties and other social events.
- If you have already given your children a smartphone or social media, consider changing your mind. They do not need “practice” as a tween to learn how to use either responsibly. Wait until they are ready-developmentally, emotionally and spiritually. Remember what Mr. Ekeler said in his most recent email on this topic “If technology evolves this quickly, why shouldn’t your decisions about it keep pace?” If nothing else, formally revisit your family technology rules every few months to be sure that they line up with your family mission.
Finally, please don’t misconstrue this as me telling you how to parent your child. My purpose here is twofold; First, I am your daughter’s technology teacher and my job is to help lead her to heaven while using technology in a productive and thoughtful way. What form that takes outside of school is up to you as a parent but please don’t take that responsibility lightly. Second, I am a mother of a daughter and I (like you) want the best for her. I used to think that this was a topic I wouldn’t have to consider for years in my own home but it has become evident in the past couple of years that is not the case. When I look at the faces of my daughter and her playmates I am worried; it will be worse for them if we don’t address this now. I think about the friendships I have made over the years built on shared experiences and common purpose, not “likes” and “snaps” and want that for these beautiful little girls, made in His image. I know you want that too.