75,400,000 — That’s quite a significant number. It represents the total population of millennials — those people born between 1983 and 2000s — dubbed “the smartphone generation.” The largest generation in the United States, this population is certainly different from any other, as they are digital natives. They witnessed the explosive growth of the Internet and were brought up completely immersed in it. It is what shaped their always connected, tech savvy and digitally infused lifestyles.
Now parents are frustrated with the smartphone generation, as they cannot come to terms with today’s 24/7 digital world and their kids’ obsession with technology. According to Common Sense Media, which did an extensive study on the subject in 2015, on average, today’s thirteen- to eighteen-year olds spend about nine hours on entertainment media per day, excluding time spent at school or doing homework. They’re online when engaging in non-digital activities, with 80 percent using two or more Internet devices while watching television. About 85 percent of millennials own a smartphone, which they touch on average 45 times per day, and 81 percent of them sleep with their phones next to their bed.
With all this communication you may think that millennials are the most connected, communicative type of people since the Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), the memo generation most likely to communicate both verbally and in written formats.
So are millennials digitally connected? Yes. Communicative? No, not really.
Parents have learned that their smartphone obsessed kids don’t like conflict and will avoid it at all costs. They like online meetings versus face-to-face conversations. They want to jump right in and see, feel and touch every bit of technology placed before them, and they have a hard time disconnecting from it.
So, is this whole connectivity working then? Parents are desperately looking for answers as they can’t engage with their kids who don’t seem to pry their eyes and fingers from their devices.
“This [technology] is brand new,” said Jonathan McKee, author of 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid, which was released early last month. While written for parents, teachers and mentors, it’s a must-read for all of us.
“Some parents are thinking whether it is smart for their kids to have smartphones,” said McKee. “I mean, we don’t give our kids the keys to our cars without some rules to be followed, so why should we just hand them a phone and say: here kid, have fun?” As president of The Source for Youth Ministry, McKee has authored over twenty books about youth and family including Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation. He speaks to both teens and parents, and provides sources to youth leaders and workers who are trying to bridge the generation gap via his website TheSource4Parents.com.
In any of his parents workshops, he’s likely to hear: “I can’t get my daughter to look up from her phone and actually talk with me,” while two hours later in a room full of teenagers, he’ll hear the protest: “My mom and dad don’t understand. They won’t let up about my phone!”
“So, who is right?” McKee asks in 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid. But before he answers that question, he educates both generations about screens — a critical issue.
“Screens hinder sleep,” he writes in his book. “Screens can also make your grades drop, and are a new playground for bullying.”
Gossip has just been given a turbo boost, he says. Roughly 43 percent of teens have been harassed online (with about 25 percent of them claiming to have suffered more than one instance of it). This statistic is critical, but not as much as the next one he writes: “Kids who’ve endured cyberbullying are much more likely to attempt suicide than those who haven’t. And parents are overwhelmingly unaware of the harassment their kids suffer.”
Screens also create a pressure to be liked in a world where many females already feel self-conscious about their looks. With all this information about screens, dangerous communication, and ways parents can model how to use their smartphones effectively to their kids, it barely covers the first chapter of this book.
Who owns whom?
In a nut shell, a smartphone can be a “help or a hindrance,” and it just depends who owns whom. “We need to help teenagers move from being tech dependent to tech enabled,” McKee advises parents. “Phones are really convenient tools for helping us communicate with people outside the room, but they become a hindrance when they interfere with our connection with people in the room.”
He also challenges teenagers: “If Mom and Dad accuse you of spending too much time with tech, don’t argue. Instead of getting defensive, just prove it with your actions. Slide your phone into your pocket, go hang out with your friends, and talk with them face-to-face. In fact, try this:
- Log off social media for a day and just hang with your friends outside.
- Go on a kayak ride with that girl/guy you talk with so well.
- When you see that beautiful sunset, resist the temptation to snap a pic, find the perfect filter, caption it, and post it on Instagram. Instead, just enjoy the sunset! Maybe even look up and thank the creator of that beautiful scene. Then pull out your phone and text your mom, telling her when you’ll be home.
“Tool — yes! Crutch — nope.”
Before diving into this book to read the 52 ways you can connect with your smartphone obsessed kid , which have not only been part of McKee’s years of research, but also personal notes as a parent who purposed to connect with his own kids, note that he presents unique ideas and advices that might work differently for each family. For some, it might be a media fast, while for others it might mean watching SpongeBob together.
Maritza Cosano is a freelance writer/editor, writing teacher and author of young adult books. She offers editorial and publishing services for writers and can be reached at [email protected].