As a father, and as someone who has experienced depression, it worries me to see so many media stories about the danger of children using their phones late at night and the damage it may cause them. It seems like another scare tactic, similar to the one I read about baked beans causing cancer once.
Don’t drive a car, you may crash! Don’t swim in the sea in Brighton, you might be eaten by a shark!
The importance lies in WHAT our children are looking at on their phones late at night. We will never stop adults, let alone teenagers, from using the most powerful tool we have at our disposal today; a device that is available in our pocket whenever we need it, and one that opens us up to the whole world. Why would we want to? Why work against people and make life difficult? Why not re-educate people, and look to make the most of these powerful tools. Campaigns to ban the use of them simply because we cannot be bothered to have a nuanced discussion about how to use these devices properly seems a bit odd to me.
These devices can help teenagers learn a language (Duolingo), navigate the world (Google maps), read Shakespeare's works (Kindle app), learn how to programme computers (Code Academy) or help them acquire many skills (Coursera, Udacity, Khan Academy, The Great Courses). They can even help them lead a more healthy lifestyle. From fitness trackers, to healthy eating apps, to apps that teach skills to prevent mental health conditions. We know there are techniques in our app that aid sleep. Deep muscle relaxation, for example, is a proven technique that can be as powerful as a sedative, without the side effects, if used close to bed time. I’ve spoken to many teenagers who have found that deep muscle relaxation has been a game changer for them when it comes to forgetting their worries at night and being able to sleep soundly. Why stop someone being able to sleep properly because we don’t understand the benefits some things can bring?
Social media can be also a great tool, but it seems that we need to help our teenagers learn how to use it to their advantage rather than become its victims. This is where we know teenagers spend a lot of their time late at night, and what we know can breed anxiety, body image issues, and more. Instagram and Snapchat may be the worst offenders, for obvious reasons.
Unfortunately, I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that scaremongering teenagers to stop using their phones is not the answer. Let’s work with people, educate our children, talk to them about mental health, and open the conversation. The more comfortable we can make our children feel, and the more they know we’re on their side, the more they’ll come to us when they feel worried, anxious or upset. That’s what we want.