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Kids Should Not Have Phones

No, wait! Hear me out! I know that title sounds overdramatic. It sounds less like a Round Table Op-Ed title and more like something your uncle says at the Thanksgiving table. Four months ago that headline would have annoyed me, I would have thought it was less a commentary on how technology affects us and more a resistance to change from an older generation. And then I worked as a teacher for the summer. 

Kids are getting smartphones younger and younger. When I was growing up there was a range of ages where kids got their first phone, but the median was around 5th grade. Now it’s rare to see a first grader that doesn’t have a smartphone of some kind. That means there are a substantial number of kids that are getting phones before they know how to read. And that should concern all of us.

How do you use a phone if you don’t know how to read? Almost all of our digital lives revolve around reading and writing. How do you search Google without being able to type out what you’re looking for? What’s the point of being able to text if you can’t use actual words? It turns out that as phones have gotten more advanced, a gradual drip of accessibility features and more and more effective algorithms have enabled kids to use their phones shockingly efficiently without reading. They use Siri to send texts that are rarely sentences and are often a jumble of words and emojis. The Tik Tok For You Page uses their engagement to personalize their feeds without them ever having to make a search. YouTube Kids autoplay shows them endless streams of everything from Cocomelon to GTA videos. We had students that didn’t know all the letters but could name the 3 biggest TikTokers. We are setting up generation Alpha to have the same compulsive phone use Gen Z has been saddled with at an even earlier stage of development. These are pandemic kids that missed crucial years of socialization and are now using technology as a substitute for face-to-face interaction at a higher rate than any previous generation.

While the long term societal effects of this shift to constant connectivity from an incredibly young age probably won’t be known for years, we are already experiencing some negative effects. Gen Z has seen historic increases in depression, highly correlated to social media use, and it’s not a stretch to imagine that this problem will only present itself earlier in generation Alpha. Attention spans have also been heavily affected, with Gen Z having the shortest average attention span in recorded history. I don’t think it’s a safe or healthy idea to provide a 1st grader’s developing brain with the endless drip of dopamine that Tiktok provides.

The world is a scary place right now. I understand why parents want their kids to be able to contact them in an emergency. But don’t get your kid a smartphone. It’s not good for them.

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