To date, my worst mistake as a parent was giving my kids cell phones. As parents we convince ourselves that our kids are “going without” if we send them to middle school unaccompanied by a cell phone. Yet we didn’t have cell phones as kids and seemed to get by just fine.
Cell phones, for all of their great advancements and convenience, are stymying maturity. Because we can text our kids to keep in constant contact, kids don’t have to advance plan for anything. Kids suffer no consequences for lacking the organization to be on time like I did where I had to walk to my destination (home or work) because my mom wasn’t going to wait around for me and had no way to accommodate my disorganization.
Cell phones assist in social isolation so that our kids don’t need human contact to socialize. Instead, they can isolate and simply communicate with peers over Snapchat and Instagram. But the communication isn’t realistic – teenagers tend to exaggerate and seem to want to “one up” each other. So they say and do things on these apps that they could not do if in the same room with their peers who can call out the exaggeration. You can be whoever you wish to be – perfect in all ways – when tucked safely behind a computer or cell phone screen. Teenage minds are not developed enough to allow for the critical thinking to recognize hogwash when they see it. When their peers seem to “have it all” on social media, feelings of inadequacy and anxiety increase, impacting self-esteem. We are a society of humans, and human connection is crucial to our advancement and maturity. We advance nothing by hiding behind a computer or cell phone screen.
Schools continue to struggle with containing cell phone usage. Indeed, cell phone usage is impacting education to such an extent that some educators are actually providing credit to kids who are able to refrain from cell phone usage during class. We all want our kids to get credit for advancement in learning, not for choosing to follow the rules, but educators are understandably exasperated. They cannot effectively educate with in-class distractions like cell phones. To address the effects of cell phone usage, Kalispell Middle School is considering a ban on cell phones on campus. Yes, a ban would require not only our kids to be more organized, but parents as well. Yes, parents won’t be able to remind their kids via text of their appointments or homework assignments, or pick up and drop off times. But these consequences pale in comparison to the social costs of cell phone dependence. Much to my son’s chagrin, I hope the ban is implemented.
Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.
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