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The smart phone has fundamentally changed our world forever. Many rank it right up there with fire, the printing press, or the invention of the wheel in terms of its game-changing significance, and it’s hard to argue. The rate of adoption for the smart phone – the speed at which people have purchased this new technology and made it part of their lives – has outpaced every other product in human history. There is not a single aspect of our lives that the smartphone hasn’t touched.

The typical iPhone user accesses their device 80-times per day, or nearly 30,000 times over the course of a year, according to data Apple collects from its users. A majority of iPhone users say they couldn’t even imagine life without their device. (Carr, 2017)

Some of these changes have been wonderful. People have constant access to a treasure trove of information at their fingertips. They can maintain a near instantaneous connection with friends and loved ones no matter where they are in the world. Camera phones have been used to document police abuses and assist in emergency responses during a disaster. Many other developments, however, have not been so positive.

A 2015 Pew Research Center survey found that “When it comes to the emotions that people experience as a result of having a smartphone, ‘productive’ and ‘happy’ lead the way – 79% and 77% of smartphone owners, respectively, indicated that their phone made them feel this way at least once over the course of the study period. But smartphones do not always inspire positive feelings, as 57% of smartphone owners reported feeling ‘distracted’ thanks to their phone, and 36% reported that their phone made them feel ‘frustrated.'” (Pew Research Center, 2015, p. 10)

The negative effects of smart phone use by teens

In a 2017 article in The Atlantic, psychologist and youth researcher Jean Twenge went so far as to question whether the smart phone had “destroyed a generation.” Among a long list of other problems that include sleep deprivation and impaired social functioning, she notes that “the correlations between depression and smartphone use are strong enough to suggest that more parents should be telling their kids to put down their phone. …It’s a policy some Silicon Valley executives follow. Even Steve Jobs limited his kids’ use of the devices he brought into the world.” (Twenge, 2017, p. 65)

Nicholas Carr adds that “Not only do our phones shape our thoughts in deep and complicated ways, but the effects persist even when we aren’t using the devices.” (Carr, 2017) In our chapter This Is Your Brain on Technology, we outlined how digital devices are stifling creativity, limiting deep thought, and changing our brains in a way that could reduce intelligence.

The effects are significant enough that all parents should be concerned about the impact smart phones are having on their child, and take steps to mitigate this risk.

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