Raising children in the age of smartphones

If there’s anything more terrifying for a 21st-century mother than our ever-developing technology, I don’t know what it is. (Potential nuclear holocaust aside, that is.)

And an animated conversation in a content planning meeting several months ago told me I was not alone. We really are in a brave new world when it comes not only to guiding our children’s integration with social media, smartphones and the like, but our own integration as well. And it’s a world that changes by the app.

This week’s issue contains the first fruits of that discussion: the inaugural piece in an ongoing series titled, perfunctorily yet appropriately, “Realities of the digital age” (In Focus, pages 9-12).

Our first installment looks at smartphones. These dazzling little devices have, in 10 short years, turned our worlds upside down. Everything is accessible at all times — including, if we allow it, ourselves.

One of the elements of the piece that resonated the most was that it is the parents’ responsibility to lead by example when it comes to smartphone usage. Everything we do is observed by the little people around us, including how often we stare at a small, handheld screen. If we are obsessed with our devices, our children will be obsessed with them. My son, at 8 months old, desires nothing more in the world than to get his hands on two things: a remote control or a smartphone. Already, he can see where the centers of power reside. It’s both humorous and horrifying.

This topic came up in my recent interview with Cristina Barba of The Culture Project — (if you missed it in print, it can be found online at OSVNews.com). Barba said that young people were identifying strategies to avoid smartphone abuse, which include physical actions like intentionally placing devices in a centrally located basket when arriving home from school, work, etc., and only retrieving them at appropriate times. It also includes a healthy amount of introspection — challenging ourselves to realistically admit how much of our time is being spent scrolling, typing and swiping. Especially in front of our children.

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There’s another element, too, that should be considered, especially for people of faith. David Cloutier of Catholic University sums it up beautifully in the In Focus: “I think using the smartphone to fill every possible gap of time in your life really does leave no room for God, no room for contemplation.”

How true is that? The more our attention is absorbed by these tiny machines, the less we have to offer up a prayer, to contemplate the beauty of creation, to reflect on a challenging conversation, to develop feelings of empathy or gratitude, or just to think. And once again, our habits when it comes to prayer, contemplation, emotion and thought are all being absorbed by those around us.

If used properly, smartphones can be blessings. But it’s up to us to control them, not for them to control us.