Hard facts or hysteria: Is technology ruining our kids lives?
At about 8 p.m. each night, a little voice calls me. “C’mon,” it says, “it will relax you. You know you want it.”
I tell myself I don’t need it. I’m perfectly fine, sitting here watching reruns with my husband. But it’s no use. I can’t resist.
With trembling hands, I reach for my tablet, and jab the all-too-familiar icon. The screen comes alive with animated characters, bright blocks, flashing coins, polka-dotted balloons and rockets. I feel my heart quicken with a surge of excitement. When I run out of lives on that game, I click another icon. I switch back and forth between the two nearly identical games in an adrenaline-fueled frenzy until my daughter yells, “Mom! Are you listening to me?”, my husband bellows at me to come to bed, or my eyes bleed. Whichever comes first.
A few years ago, I used to “tsk” at those who would post their game levels. When my aunt suggested I try a word game, I scoffed and condescended. I might gander at a New York Times crossword puzzle or flop down a round of solitaire, but I didn’t have time for silly apps.
Now, here I am, a grown woman, ignoring my children and husband while I poke at cartoon characters on my tablet like some kind of trained chimpanzee. How did this happen?
According to Adam Alter, author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked (2017), tech executives are to blame. Apparently, today’s industry big shots select apps based on how addictive they are. In fact, the tech industry is now being compared to American tobacco companies. In the 1960s, big tobacco execs realized that their customers’ chemical dependence was their products’ crucial selling point, but didn’t publicly acknowledge nicotine as addictive until 30 years later.
A study by Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University stated that “U.S. teenagers who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely, and those who spend five hours or more are 71 percent more likely, to have a risk factor for suicide than those who spend less than one hour.”
Another study published last month found that restricting bedroom use of smartphones was related to decreased risk of addiction, better focus, more satisfying relationships, and overall happiness. Moreover, more than half of American teenagers themselves admitted to “feeling addicted” to their smartphones, in a 2016 survey by Common Sense Media.
However, other reputable scientists and industry insiders say that the research conducted thus far is flawed, and the worry over mobile device overuse is overblown. Some blame parents for not monitoring their children, while others cite studies showing that cell phone usage has actually benefitted young people socially.
The only thing that is clear is that, until there is unbiased research based on facts rather than fear or finances, parents have to use common sense in limiting their kids’ tech usage.
All this analysis would normally induce cravings for a few mind-numbing rounds of my favorite game, but one study I read could cure my addiction cold turkey: a global survey conducted by AVG Technologies found that 54 percent of kids feel unimportant when their parents are distracted by their mobile devices.
(Editor’s note: Molinari writes a column covering different aspects of military life. You can find her articles at www.themeatandpotatoesoflife.com.)