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Wanna raise a messed-up kid? Give them a smart phone!

By Gary Wood | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-05-13 15:41


Let me begin by expressing my belief in the practicality of smartphones. These devices offer unmatched convenience, giving us access to information at our fingertips. Moreover, the abundance of educational apps available can yield great benefits. However, despite these advantages, I believe that smartphones are, in many ways, detrimental to the development of teenagers. Thanks to the apathy and laziness of many parents, the majority of smartphone usage by young people is wasted on nonsensical apps.

I've taken measures to minimize my smartphone usage during the workday, by removing several social media apps from my device and seldom logging in to messaging platforms like WeChat. However, as an adult, I possess the autonomy to make such decisions without succumbing to the fear of 'missing out'. This luxury is not afforded to most teenagers, whose constant need to fit in and keep up with their peers drives them to check their smartphones and use numerous social media apps. When the journalist Harry Wallop had a weeklong smart phone ban with his family, his teenage daughter even stated she felt 'quite isolated and lonely from her friends'.

Smartphone usage among teenagers is widespread, with many struggling to get their noses out their screens. They use smartphones for continuous communication, photo sharing, online gaming, as well as other unnecessary nonsense. I firmly believe it is up to parents to 'be the adult' and manage their child's use of smart phones. If you can't do that, you're failing as a parent. Simple.

As a pastoral coordinator at an international school in China, I am invested in the health and well-being of young people. It has become evident that smartphones pose multifaceted risks to their physical health, mental well-being and academic performance.

Physical Health: Smart phones are another reason for kids to sit on their backsides and stare at a screen. Chinese young people are sedentary to begin with, and with mounting study pressures and fierce competition between peers, it gets worse the older they get. Many parents claim their kids don't have enough time to exercise due to study pressures. Let me assure you, this is mostly nonsense! I've met some of the parents who sprout this mantra and they are the same people who are quite content to let their kids mess around on gaming apps, or even drive them to school despite the fact they live a 10-minute bike ride from the campus. Seriously, a plethora of fitness influencers upload follow along workouts to Bilibili these days. Use them! Tip for parents: Be the adult. Either add parental controls to limit how your kid uses their smart phone, or give them a flip phone. Seriously, I can't imagine a teenager would sit for hours and play Snake! Please, take the well-being of your child seriously.

Mental Health: Social media platforms often present distorted representations of life, fostering feelings of inadequacy and insecurity among teenagers. Let's be honest, even as adults we can get a quick sense of inadequacy when we see the 'amazing' lives that our 'friends' are living on social media. Eventually, our 2-3lb brains quickly realise that none of this is likely true and is part of the 'instalie' culture. As someone who was indeed a vulnerable teenager, had I been around during the age of social media and the Insta-nonsense, this would have been devastating and knocked me into a deeper hole of depression. Educating young people, or perhaps even stopping them, from the nonsense they get bombarded with via photo/video sharing apps will be a huge step in ensuring their minds aren't poisoned any further.

Academic Performance: Smartphone usage disrupts sleep patterns, adversely affecting academic performance. Despite the well-documented impact of sleep deprivation on academic outcomes, many parents are still thoughtless enough to let kids take smart phones to bed with them. Again, parents need to act like adults and take their children's well-being seriously. Implementing boundaries and establishing bedrooms as a phone-free zone could improve sleep quality and in turn promote academic performance.

Despite the challenges posed by smartphones, there is room for positive change. Many countries, including China, have implemented time restrictions on smartphone usage and online gaming. Providing parents use common sense and don't pass on their own log in details to their kids, we may see some progress.

In conclusion, smartphones are invaluable tools when used responsibly. However, unchecked usage can have detrimental effects on teenagers' physical health, mental well-being, and academic performance. However, the amount of parental apathy, or perhaps laziness for the want of a better word, will only contribute to a growing generation of layabouts. Most of the steps and advice laid out above are just common sense. Should any parent be unable to deal with the above-mentioned issues, I believe it to be a great cause for concern.

Gary Wood is a student pastoral worker at an international school and he has lived in China for 12 years. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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