Helping Kids Understand the Danger of Mobile Device Overuse
This is a letter I’ve written to my sons. It’s part of a series which covers a wide variety of topics in which I attempt to give my boys life guidance. I hope you’ll find some of these ideas helpful when talking with your own children.
As you know, I’m concerned about you spending too much time watching videos, playing games or even messaging people on your phone.
We limit the amount of time you can do those things, but I want to explain why.
I’m not just setting limits to be mean and stricter than your friends’ parents, but I have real reasons that I feel are important.
Knowing these reasons may help you understand a bit more.
Your life will be very different from mine, your grandparents’ or anyone else who’s lived before.
You will have many opportunities. More opportunities than others before you could have imagined.
But you will also encounter very big challenges.
Challenges no humans have ever had to contend with.
A Time Before Computers Were Everywhere
Let me tell you a quick story to help you understand why I say this.
When I was a kid, we had computers, but the Internet wasn’t everywhere like it is today. And there certainly weren’t any cellphones.
Because our level of technology wasn’t as high as it is today, life was much slower.
When my parents and I went to the store and waited in line, we had to either stay quiet or strike up a conversation with someone who was also in line.
You may think that life was super boring – maybe it was a little bit.
But people back then felt much more comfortable with the slow times. These slow times gave us time to think more and more time to interact with people face-to-face.
And that slowness a gave life a deeper quality.
The Device that Changed Society
Let’s jump ahead to when things really changed for us.
In 2007, a device was invented that would prove to be a major game-changer for society.
That device was the iPhone.
When that device first came out, it only had had only silly apps and games, but people were still fascinated by it because it could do a lot more than they could on their old cell phone.
As time went on, other cell phones came out that copied and improved on the iPhone. As these smartphones got cheaper, everyone started getting them.
While this was happening, more and more entertaining software was developed that made phones and tablets even more entertaining.
Even more addictive.
We Were No Longer Bored…But it Came With a Cost.
These devices became so entertaining that people stared at them more and more. At the same time, they wanted to interact with the world around them less and less.
When this happened, life started feeling much faster.
Much busier. More entertaining. More distracting. Shallower.
Because these devices were always in our pockets, that meant that we didn’t need to be bored anymore.
We could always be entertained whenever we wanted. The devices not only allowed us to never be bored again, but they allowed us to not have to think about the stuff that was worrying us.
So you may be thinking, “What’s the big deal? Tablets and phones are fun. I really don’t like being bored and I certainly don’t like thinking about stuff that worries me. What’s wrong with being distracted and entertaining myself all the time?”
Tablets and cell phones are fun, I admit. But they’re not always good for you.
Your Brain Is Like a Computer – It Gets Programmed
Let’s talk a bit about your brain.
Scientists have taught us that the stuff you do changes your brain – and the activities you do the most change your brain the most.
Just like a computer is programmed by using special code, your brain is programmed by doing things over and over.
Your brain changes over time, based on what it does. It adapts.
The things it does the most tend to be the things it learns to do the best.
The things your brain does the least tend to be the things it doesn’t do well.
In fact, your brain can actually make the things you do the least feel bad to do. Your brain can make you want to not do those things altogether.
So these brain changes don’t just make you better or worse at different activities, the changes to your brain can actually change how you feel about doing them!
Using Mobile Devices Too Much Makes You Not Like Doing Other Things
And here’s the thing – when you use mobile devices too much for entertainment, you’re literally programming your brain to hate doing things like thinking deeply and interacting with people in-person.
When you use a tablet or phone too much your brain starts to only want to do exciting and entertaining things.
You might be thinking, “so what? Who needs to slow down?”
The problem is that many times in life you need to slow down in order to do something important – and there won’t always something there to make things exciting and fun for you.
Also, you’ll need to learn how to live without distractions in order to connect and have meaningful relationships with people physically around you.
A life without deep, meaningful relationships is a lonely one.
Your Brain Is like a Computer but It Isn’t a Computer
In fact, limiting your time on tables and phones isn’t just a preference thing.
Your brain actually needs to have quieter times.
Even though your brain can be programmed like a computer, it isn’t a computer.
Your brain is a physical part of your body. Just like a muscle needs downtime to rest and built itself up, so does your brain.
Without Slow Times, Worries Will Pile Up
You can actually make yourself unhappy and stressed when you’re on your phone or tablet too much.
Because when you constantly entertain and distract yourself, troubling thoughts can pile up in your mind.
Kind of like what happens with a messy room.
Think about a time when your room was nice and clean. It feels great to go into your room when it’s like that – it almost makes you feel lighter.
After a while though, stuff starts to accumulate. It starts small – a toy here, or a book there. No big deal.
But after a while, if you don’t clean those things up, stuff really starts piling up. One thing on top of the next.
And when you go into the room when it’s like that, you don’t feel good. You feel weighed down.
The same thing happens in your mind when you don’t have enough slow times – stress and worries pile up.
So you need those times to clean up the worries in your head – just like cleaning your room.
Constant Distraction Makes You a Follower not a Leader of Your Life
Another thing that happens when you use your tablet or phone too much is that you get trained to follow others instead of using your own initiative.
You look for something outside of yourself to give you direction rather than using the voice inside of you.
Stuff you do on the phone or tablet train your brain to push down the thoughts coming from you – the thoughts that tell you what you should create and bring into the world.
This is incredibly important.
All those voices on SnapChat and Instagram, all those YouTube videos, all those commercials telling you to buy stuff — those things quiet your internal voice and encourage you to accept what others want you to do.
Don’t be a follower.
Be your own leader.
Use your internal compass as the guide of your life, not the noise of the crowd.