Back in the Dark Ages, talking with a friend on the phone required me to use a landline, which meant being in the kitchen because the phone there had a 20-foot chord that allowed me to pace as I spoke. Twenty feet seemed like a goodly distance, but I knew that no conversation could be considered private. It also meant that no conversation would take place after 10:00 p.m. out of respect for parents in houses on both ends of the line who had to work the next day.
These circumstances didn’t prevent me from having a private life or staying up late. They merely helped me discern what should be private and what could be said within earshot of parents and siblings. They also prevented me from taking a phone into the bedroom with me, which gave me a space the outside world had to knock to enter. I got to choose which books or letters or magazines or siblings came in.
It appears that giving young people constant access to smartphones is a bad idea. This morning’s New York Times reveals:
Of course, there have been major swings in teenage well-being. By many measures, teen mental health has deteriorated, especially for girls, since about 2008. The suicide rate for girls and boys began rising around then. Feelings of loneliness and sadness began rising, too. The amount of time teenagers spend socializing in person has declined. So has sleep. “Young people are telling us that they are in crisis,” Kathleen Ethier, a top C.D.C. official, said this month when releasing the results of a large survey.
2008, if you’re wondering, is one year after the first iPhone became publicly available.
The Times also reveals that students whose access to smartphones is limited, particularly in PM hours, have higher levels of self-confidence and mental health. Of the 66 studies conducted on the impact of smartphones on the mental health of young people, only 11 concluded that little or no damage has been done.
I have no idea what it will take to pry smartphones out of the clutched hands of students. I’m open to ideas. Share them now.