But there is another reason for us to rethink our relationships with our devices. By chronically raising levels of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, our phones may be threatening our health and shortening our lives.
Until now, most discussions of phones’ biochemical effects have focused on dopamine, a brain chemical that helps us form habits — and addictions. Like slot machines, smartphones and apps are explicitly designed to trigger dopamine’s release, with the goal of making our devices difficult to put down.
This manipulation of our dopamine systems is why many experts believe that we are developing behavioral addictions to our phones. But our phones’ effects on cortisol are potentially even more alarming.
Cortisol is our primary fight-or-flight hormone. Its release triggers physiological changes, such as spikes in blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar, that help us react to and survive acute physical threats.
These effects can be lifesaving if you are actually in physical danger — like, say, you’re being charged by a bull. But our bodies also release cortisol in response to emotional stressors where an increased heart rate isn’t going to do much good, such as checking your phone to find an angry email from your boss.
4 Hours a Day
If they happened only occasionally, phone-induced cortisol spikes might not matter. But the average American spends four hours a day staring at their smartphone and keeps it within arm’s reach nearly all the time, according to a tracking app called Moment. The result, as Google has noted in a report, is that “mobile devices loaded with social media, email and news apps” create “a constant sense of obligation, generating unintended personal stress.”
“Your cortisol levels are elevated when your phone is in sight or nearby, or when you hear it or even think you hear it,” says David Greenfield, professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. “It’s a stress response, and it feels unpleasant, and the body’s natural response is to want to check the phone to make the stress go away.”
But while doing so might soothe you for a second, it probably will make things worse in the long run. Any time you check your phone, you’re likely to find something else stressful waiting for you, leading to another spike in cortisol and another craving to check your phone to make your anxiety go away. This cycle, when continuously reinforced, leads to chronically elevated cortisol levels.
And chronically elevated cortisol levels have been tied to an increased risk of serious health problems, including depression, obesity, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, fertility issues, high blood pressure, heart attack, dementia and stroke.
“Every chronic disease we know of is exacerbated by stress,” says Dr. Robert Lustig, emeritus professor in pediatric endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of “The Hacking of the American Mind.” “And our phones are absolutely contributing to this.”
In addition to its potential long-term health consequences, smartphone-induced stress affects us in more immediately life-threatening ways.
Elevated cortisol levels impair the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain critical for decision-making and rational thought. “The prefrontal cortex is the brain’s Jiminy Cricket,” says Dr. Lustig. “It keeps us from doing stupid things.”
Impairment of the prefrontal cortex decreases self-control. When coupled with a powerful desire to allay our anxiety, this can lead us to do things that may be stress-relieving in the moment but are potentially fatal, such as texting while driving.
The effects of stress can be amplified even further if we are constantly worrying that something bad is about to happen, whether it’s a physical attack or an infuriating comment on social media. (In the case of phones, this state of hypervigilance sometimes manifests as “phantom vibrations,” in which people feel their phone vibrating in their pocket when their phone isn’t even there.)
“Everything that we do, everything we experience, can influence our physiology and change circuits in our brain in ways that make us more or less reactive to stress,” says Bruce McEwen, head of the Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at The Rockefeller University.
Dr. McEwen also notes that our baseline cortisol levels ebb and flow in a regular 24-hour cycle that is thrown out of whack if we get less than seven to eight hours of sleep a night, which is all too easy to do if you’re in the habit of checking your phone before bed. This in turn leaves our bodies less resilient to stress and increases our risk of all the stress-related health conditions mentioned above.
Put this all together, and the hours we spend compulsively checking our phones may add up to much more than a waste of time.
Breaking the Cycle
The good news is that if we break this anxiety-driven cycle, we can reduce our cortisol levels, which in turn may both improve our short-term judgment and lower our risks for long-term stress-related health problems. Over time, says Dr. McEwen, it’s even possible to retrain our brains so that our stress responses are no longer on such a hair-trigger to begin with.
To make your phone less stressful, start by turning off all notifications except for the ones you actually want to receive.
Next, pay attention to how individual apps make you feel when you use them. Which do you check out of anxiety? Which leave you feeling stressed? Hide these apps in a folder off your home screen. Or, better yet, delete them for a few days and see how it feels.
And while you’re at it, start paying attention to how individual apps affect you physically, too. “If we’re not aware of our physical sensations, we’re not going to change our behaviors,” says Dr. Judson Brewer, director of research and innovation at the Mindfulness Center at Brown University and author of “The Craving Mind.” According to Dr. Brewer, stress and anxiety often manifest as a feeling of contraction in the chest.
Regular breaks can also be an effective way to rebalance your body’s chemistry and regain your sense of control. A 24-hour “digital Sabbath” can be surprisingly soothing (once the initial twitchiness subsides), but even just leaving your phone behind when you get lunch is a step in the right direction.
Also, try to notice what anxiety-induced phone cravings feel like in your brain and body — without immediately giving in to them. “If you practice noticing what is happening inside yourself, you will realize that you can choose how to respond,” says Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist teacher at the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California. “We don’t have to be at the mercy of algorithms that are promoting the fear of missing out.”
Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to create healthy boundaries with devices that are deliberately designed to discourage them. But by reducing our stress levels, doing so won’t just make us feel better day-to-day. It might actually lengthen our lives.
The Wait Until 8th pledge empowers parents to rally together to delay giving children a smartphone until at least 8th grade. By banding together, this will decrease the pressure felt by kids and parents alike over the kids having a smartphone.
Smartphones are distracting and potentially dangerous for children yet are widespread in elementary and middle school because of unrealistic social pressure and expectations to have one.
These devices are quickly changing childhood for children. Playing outdoors, spending time with friends, reading books and hanging out with family is happening a lot less to make room for hours of snap chatting, instagramming, and catching up on You Tube.
Parents feel powerless in this uphill battle and need community support to help delay the ever-evolving presence of the smartphone in the classroom, social arena and family dinner table. Let’s band together to wait until at least eighth grade before children are allowed to have a smartphone.
Every major carrier makes a basic phone that just calls and texts without a data plan if you believe your child will need to get in touch with you before 8th grade. The Wait Until 8th pledge is encouraging parents to delay the smartphone. If you would like your child to have a basic phone that just calls and texts or a two-way calling watch, you still can sign the pledge! The basic phone and two-way calling watch avoid many of the distractions and dangers of the smartphone.
Childhood is too short to waste on a smartphone. Take the pledge today!
Make sure they (and you!) are ready for the next step with conversation starters that get everyone on the same page.By Sierra Filucci5/16/2016
You’re on your way to pick up your kid after school, and traffic is crawling or your train is delayed or your car breaks down. If only your kid had a phone, you could tell him you’ll be late. It’s moments like these that lead many parents to get their tweens or teens their first phones. But even though the convenience is compelling — and your kid has probably been begging for one — how do you know he’s really ready?
If you’re considering a smartphone for your kid, you’ll need to think through a few things, from who will pay for it to whether she’s responsible enough to use it appropriately. But once you decide to take the plunge, start the conversation with these five questions. Also, consider requiring your kid to complete Digital Compass (a Common Sense Media game that teaches digital citizenship) before handing over the device.
Why do you want a cell phone?
The answer to this question will help you understand what to expect once she gets the phone and where she might need some limits. Does she want to text with friends? Or play Crossy Road for hours?
Do you understand the rules your family and school have for phone use?
Most kids know they have to answer yes to this question, but it can help start the conversation about your family and school’s expectations around how the phone is used, from whether they can download apps without permission to how they can or can’t use the phone in the classroom. Be sure to discuss the consequences if rules are broken.
What are some concerns you think your family and teachers have about phones?
This question helps you understand what your kid thinks are the main sources of tension around kids and phone use. You can use this conversation to clarify any of your concerns, such as how often your kid is on the phone, whether he uses social media apps, and how to handle a call or text from a stranger.
What are five places it’s not OK to use your phone?
Phone etiquette and safety are ongoing conversations, since kids will be experiencing some phone situations for the first time. But this is a good time to lay down the absolute basics, like no staring at your phone when Grandma’s talking, no taking photos in locker rooms, no phones at the dinner table, and so on.
What will you do if you lose or break your phone?
Unfortunately, this is a real possibility. Talk about whether the phone will be replaced and, if so, who pays for it. Is insurance an option? Discuss options for preventing loss or breakage.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
I’ve been researching generational differences for 25 years, starting when I was a 22-year-old doctoral student in psychology. Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so. Millennials, for instance, are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys. Then I began studying Athena’s generation.
Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it.
At first I presumed these might be blips, but the trends persisted, across several years and a series of national surveys. The changes weren’t just in degree, but in kind. The biggest difference between the Millennials and their predecessors was in how they viewed the world; teens today differ from the Millennials not just in their views but in how they spend their time. The experiences they have every day are radically different from those of the generation that came of age just a few years before them.
What happened in 2012 to cause such dramatic shifts in behavior? It was after the Great Recession, which officially lasted from 2007 to 2009 and had a starker effect on Millennials trying to find a place in a sputtering economy. But it was exactly the moment when the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent.
The more I pored over yearly surveys of teen attitudes and behaviors, and the more I talked with young people like Athena, the clearer it became that theirs is a generation shaped by the smartphone and by the concomitant rise of social media. I call them iGen. Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet. The Millennials grew up with the web as well, but it wasn’t ever-present in their lives, at hand at all times, day and night. iGen’s oldest members were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced, in 2007, and high-school students when the iPad entered the scene, in 2010. A 2017 survey of more than 5,000 American teens found that three out of four owned an iPhone.
The advent of the smartphone and its cousin the tablet was followed quickly by hand-wringing about the deleterious effects of “screen time.” But the impact of these devices has not been fully appreciated, and goes far beyond the usual concerns about curtailed attention spans. The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. The trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs, and small towns. Where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smartphone.
To those of us who fondly recall a more analog adolescence, this may seem foreign and troubling. The aim of generational study, however, is not to succumb to nostalgia for the way things used to be; it’s to understand how they are now. Some generational changes are positive, some are negative, and many are both. More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been. They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, having less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors, are less susceptible to drinking’s attendant ills.
Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.
Even when a seismic event—a war, a technological leap, a free concert in the mud—plays an outsize role in shaping a group of young people, no single factor ever defines a generation. Parenting styles continue to change, as do school curricula and culture, and these things matter. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.
In the early 1970s, the photographer Bill Yates shot a series of portraits at the Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink in Tampa, Florida. In one, a shirtless teen stands with a large bottle of peppermint schnapps stuck in the waistband of his jeans. In another, a boy who looks no older than 12 poses with a cigarette in his mouth. The rink was a place where kids could get away from their parents and inhabit a world of their own, a world where they could drink, smoke, and make out in the backs of their cars. In stark black-and-white, the adolescent Boomers gaze at Yates’s camera with the self-confidence born of making your own choices—even if, perhaps especially if, your parents wouldn’t think they were the right ones.
Fifteen years later, during my own teenage years as a member of Generation X, smoking had lost some of its romance, but independence was definitely still in. My friends and I plotted to get our driver’s license as soon as we could, making DMV appointments for the day we turned 16 and using our newfound freedom to escape the confines of our suburban neighborhood. Asked by our parents, “When will you be home?,” we replied, “When do I have to be?”
But the allure of independence, so powerful to previous generations, holds less sway over today’s teens, who are less likely to leave the house without their parents. The shift is stunning: 12th-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently as 2009.
Today’s teens are also less likely to date. The initial stage of courtship, which Gen Xers called “liking” (as in “Ooh, he likes you!”), kids now call “talking”—an ironic choice for a generation that prefers texting to actual conversation. After two teens have “talked” for a while, they might start dating. But only about 56 percent of high-school seniors in 2015 went out on dates; for Boomers and Gen Xers, the number was about 85 percent.
The decline in dating tracks with a decline in sexual activity. The drop is the sharpest for ninth-graders, among whom the number of sexually active teens has been cut by almost 40 percent since 1991. The average teen now has had sex for the first time by the spring of 11th grade, a full year later than the average Gen Xer. Fewer teens having sex has contributed to what many see as one of the most positive youth trends in recent years: The teen birth rate hit an all-time low in 2016, down 67 percent since its modern peak, in 1991.
Even driving, a symbol of adolescent freedom inscribed in American popular culture, from Rebel Without a Cause to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, has lost its appeal for today’s teens. Nearly all Boomer high-school students had their driver’s license by the spring of their senior year; more than one in four teens today still lack one at the end of high school. For some, Mom and Dad are such good chauffeurs that there’s no urgent need to drive. “My parents drove me everywhere and never complained, so I always had rides,” a 21-year-old student in San Diego told me. “I didn’t get my license until my mom told me I had to because she could not keep driving me to school.” She finally got her license six months after her 18th birthday. In conversation after conversation, teens described getting their license as something to be nagged into by their parents—a notion that would have been unthinkable to previous generations.
Independence isn’t free—you need some money in your pocket to pay for gas, or for that bottle of schnapps. In earlier eras, kids worked in great numbers, eager to finance their freedom or prodded by their parents to learn the value of a dollar. But iGen teens aren’t working (or managing their own money) as much. In the late 1970s, 77 percent of high-school seniors worked for pay during the school year; by the mid-2010s, only 55 percent did. The number of eighth-graders who work for pay has been cut in half. These declines accelerated during the Great Recession, but teen employment has not bounced back, even though job availability has.
Of course, putting off the responsibilities of adulthood is not an iGen innovation. Gen Xers, in the 1990s, were the first to postpone the traditional markers of adulthood. Young Gen Xers were just about as likely to drive, drink alcohol, and date as young Boomers had been, and more likely to have sex and get pregnant as teens. But as they left their teenage years behind, Gen Xers married and started careers later than their Boomer predecessors had.
Gen X managed to stretch adolescence beyond all previous limits: Its members started becoming adults earlier and finished becoming adults later. Beginning with Millennials and continuing with iGen, adolescence is contracting again—but only because its onset is being delayed. Across a range of behaviors—drinking, dating, spending time unsupervised— 18-year-olds now act more like 15-year-olds used to, and 15-year-olds more like 13-year-olds. Childhood now stretches well into high school.
Why are today’s teens waiting longer to take on both the responsibilities and the pleasures of adulthood? Shifts in the economy, and parenting, certainly play a role. In an information economy that rewards higher education more than early work history, parents may be inclined to encourage their kids to stay home and study rather than to get a part-time job. Teens, in turn, seem to be content with this homebody arrangement—not because they’re so studious, but because their social life is lived on their phone. They don’t need to leave home to spend time with their friends.
If today’s teens were a generation of grinds, we’d see that in the data. But eighth-, 10th-, and 12th-graders in the 2010s actually spend less time on homework than Gen X teens did in the early 1990s. (High-school seniors headed for four-year colleges spend about the same amount of time on homework as their predecessors did.) The time that seniors spend on activities such as student clubs and sports and exercise has changed little in recent years. Combined with the decline in working for pay, this means iGen teens have more leisure time than Gen X teens did, not less.
So what are they doing with all that time? They are on their phone, in their room, alone and often distressed.
One of the ironies of iGen life is that despite spending far more time under the same roof as their parents, today’s teens can hardly be said to be closer to their mothers and fathers than their predecessors were. “I’ve seen my friends with their families—they don’t talk to them,” Athena told me. “They just say ‘Okay, okay, whatever’ while they’re on their phones. They don’t pay attention to their family.” Like her peers, Athena is an expert at tuning out her parents so she can focus on her phone. She spent much of her summer keeping up with friends, but nearly all of it was over text or Snapchat. “I’ve been on my phone more than I’ve been with actual people,” she said. “My bed has, like, an imprint of my body.”
In this, too, she is typical. The number of teens who get together with their friends nearly every day dropped by more than 40 percent from 2000 to 2015; the decline has been especially steep recently. It’s not only a matter of fewer kids partying; fewer kids are spending time simply hanging out. That’s something most teens used to do: nerds and jocks, poor kids and rich kids, C students and A students. The roller rink, the basketball court, the town pool, the local necking spot—they’ve all been replaced by virtual spaces accessed through apps and the web.
You might expect that teens spend so much time in these new spaces because it makes them happy, but most data suggest that it does not. The Monitoring the Future survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and designed to be nationally representative, has asked 12th-graders more than 1,000 questions every year since 1975 and queried eighth- and 10th-graders since 1991. The survey asks teens how happy they are and also how much of their leisure time they spend on various activities, including nonscreen activities such as in-person social interaction and exercise, and, in recent years, screen activities such as using social media, texting, and browsing the web. The results could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.
There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness. Eighth-graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media. Admittedly, 10 hours a week is a lot. But those who spend six to nine hours a week on social media are still 47 percent more likely to say they are unhappy than those who use social media even less. The opposite is true of in-person interactions. Those who spend an above-average amount of time with their friends in person are 20 percent less likely to say they’re unhappy than those who hang out for a below-average amount of time.
If you were going to give advice for a happy adolescence based on this survey, it would be straightforward: Put down the phone, turn off the laptop, and do something—anything—that does not involve a screen. Of course, these analyses don’t unequivocally prove that screen time causes unhappiness; it’s possible that unhappy teens spend more time online. But recent research suggests that screen time, in particular social-media use, does indeed cause unhappiness. One study asked college students with a Facebook page to complete short surveys on their phone over the course of two weeks. They’d get a text message with a link five times a day, and report on their mood and how much they’d used Facebook. The more they’d used Facebook, the unhappier they felt, but feeling unhappy did not subsequently lead to more Facebook use.
Social-networking sites like Facebook promise to connect us to friends. But the portrait of iGen teens emerging from the data is one of a lonely, dislocated generation. Teens who visit social-networking sites every day but see their friends in person less frequently are the most likely to agree with the statements “A lot of times I feel lonely,” “I often feel left out of things,” and “I often wish I had more good friends.” Teens’ feelings of loneliness spiked in 2013 and have remained high since.
This doesn’t always mean that, on an individual level, kids who spend more time online are lonelier than kids who spend less time online. Teens who spend more time on social media also spend more time with their friends in person, on average—highly social teens are more social in both venues, and less social teens are less so. But at the generational level, when teens spend more time on smartphones and less time on in-person social interactions, loneliness is more common.
So is depression. Once again, the effect of screen activities is unmistakable: The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression. Eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent, while those who play sports, go to religious services, or even do homework more than the average teen cut their risk significantly.
Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, such as making a suicide plan. (That’s much more than the risk related to, say, watching TV.) One piece of data that indirectly but stunningly captures kids’ growing isolation, for good and for bad: Since 2007, the homicide rate among teens has declined, but the suicide rate has increased. As teens have started spending less time together, they have become less likely to kill one another, and more likely to kill themselves. In 2011, for the first time in 24 years, the teen suicide rate was higher than the teen homicide rate.
Depression and suicide have many causes; too much technology is clearly not the only one. And the teen suicide rate was even higher in the 1990s, long before smartphones existed. Then again, about four times as many Americans now take antidepressants, which are often effective in treating severe depression, the type most strongly linked to suicide.
What’s the connection between smartphones and the apparent psychological distress this generation is experiencing? For all their power to link kids day and night, social media also exacerbate the age-old teen concern about being left out. Today’s teens may go to fewer parties and spend less time together in person, but when they do congregate, they document their hangouts relentlessly—on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook. Those not invited to come along are keenly aware of it. Accordingly, the number of teens who feel left out has reached all-time highs across age groups. Like the increase in loneliness, the upswing in feeling left out has been swift and significant.
This trend has been especially steep among girls. Forty-eight percent more girls said they often felt left out in 2015 than in 2010, compared with 27 percent more boys. Girls use social media more often, giving them additional opportunities to feel excluded and lonely when they see their friends or classmates getting together without them. Social media levy a psychic tax on the teen doing the posting as well, as she anxiously awaits the affirmation of comments and likes. When Athena posts pictures to Instagram, she told me, “I’m nervous about what people think and are going to say. It sometimes bugs me when I don’t get a certain amount of likes on a picture.”
Girls have also borne the brunt of the rise in depressive symptoms among today’s teens. Boys’ depressive symptoms increased by 21 percent from 2012 to 2015, while girls’ increased by 50 percent—more than twice as much. The rise in suicide, too, is more pronounced among girls. Although the rate increased for both sexes, three times as many 12-to-14-year-old girls killed themselves in 2015 as in 2007, compared with twice as many boys. The suicide rate is still higher for boys, in part because they use more-lethal methods, but girls are beginning to close the gap.
These more dire consequences for teenage girls could also be rooted in the fact that they’re more likely to experience cyberbullying. Boys tend to bully one another physically, while girls are more likely to do so by undermining a victim’s social status or relationships. Social media give middle- and high-school girls a platform on which to carry out the style of aggression they favor, ostracizing and excluding other girls around the clock.
Social-media companies are of course aware of these problems, and to one degree or another have endeavored to prevent cyberbullying. But their various motivations are, to say the least, complex. A recently leaked Facebook document indicated that the company had been touting to advertisers its ability to determine teens’ emotional state based on their on-site behavior, and even to pinpoint “moments when young people need a confidence boost.” Facebook acknowledged that the document was real, but denied that it offers “tools to target people based on their emotional state.”
In july 2014, a 13-year-old girl in North Texas woke to the smell of something burning. Her phone had overheated and melted into the sheets. National news outlets picked up the story, stoking readers’ fears that their cellphone might spontaneously combust. To me, however, the flaming cellphone wasn’t the only surprising aspect of the story. Why, I wondered, would anyone sleep with her phone beside her in bed? It’s not as though you can surf the web while you’re sleeping. And who could slumber deeply inches from a buzzing phone?
Curious, I asked my undergraduate students at San Diego State University what they do with their phone while they sleep. Their answers were a profile in obsession. Nearly all slept with their phone, putting it under their pillow, on the mattress, or at the very least within arm’s reach of the bed. They checked social media right before they went to sleep, and reached for their phone as soon as they woke up in the morning (they had to—all of them used it as their alarm clock). Their phone was the last thing they saw before they went to sleep and the first thing they saw when they woke up. If they woke in the middle of the night, they often ended up looking at their phone. Some used the language of addiction. “I know I shouldn’t, but I just can’t help it,” one said about looking at her phone while in bed. Others saw their phone as an extension of their body—or even like a lover: “Having my phone closer to me while I’m sleeping is a comfort.”
It may be a comfort, but the smartphone is cutting into teens’ sleep: Many now sleep less than seven hours most nights. Sleep experts say that teens should get about nine hours of sleep a night; a teen who is getting less than seven hours a night is significantly sleep deprived. Fifty-seven percent more teens were sleep deprived in 2015 than in 1991. In just the four years from 2012 to 2015, 22 percent more teens failed to get seven hours of sleep.
The increase is suspiciously timed, once again starting around when most teens got a smartphone. Two national surveys show that teens who spend three or more hours a day on electronic devices are 28 percent more likely to get less than seven hours of sleep than those who spend fewer than three hours, and teens who visit social-media sites every day are 19 percent more likely to be sleep deprived. A meta-analysis of studies on electronic-device use among children found similar results: Children who use a media device right before bed are more likely to sleep less than they should, more likely to sleep poorly, and more than twice as likely to be sleepy during the day.
Electronic devices and social media seem to have an especially strong ability to disrupt sleep. Teens who read books and magazines more often than the average are actually slightly less likely to be sleep deprived—either reading lulls them to sleep, or they can put the book down at bedtime. Watching TV for several hours a day is only weakly linked to sleeping less. But the allure of the smartphone is often too much to resist.
Sleep deprivation is linked to myriad issues, including compromised thinking and reasoning, susceptibility to illness, weight gain, and high blood pressure. It also affects mood: People who don’t sleep enough are prone to depression and anxiety. Again, it’s difficult to trace the precise paths of causation. Smartphones could be causing lack of sleep, which leads to depression, or the phones could be causing depression, which leads to lack of sleep. Or some other factor could be causing both depression and sleep deprivation to rise. But the smartphone, its blue light glowing in the dark, is likely playing a nefarious role.
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. As the technology writer Nick Bilton has reported, it’s a policy some Silicon Valley executives follow. Even Steve Jobs limited his kids’ use of the devices he brought into the world.
What’s at stake isn’t just how kids experience adolescence. The constant presence of smartphones is likely to affect them well into adulthood. Among people who suffer an episode of depression, at least half become depressed again later in life. Adolescence is a key time for developing social skills; as teens spend less time with their friends face-to-face, they have fewer opportunities to practice them. In the next decade, we may see more adults who know just the right emoji for a situation, but not the right facial expression.
I realize that restricting technology might be an unrealistic demand to impose on a generation of kids so accustomed to being wired at all times. My three daughters were born in 2006, 2009, and 2012. They’re not yet old enough to display the traits of iGen teens, but I have already witnessed firsthand just how ingrained new media are in their young lives. I’ve observed my toddler, barely old enough to walk, confidently swiping her way through an iPad. I’ve experienced my 6-year-old asking for her own cellphone. I’ve overheard my 9-year-old discussing the latest app to sweep the fourth grade. Prying the phone out of our kids’ hands will be difficult, even more so than the quixotic efforts of my parents’ generation to get their kids to turn off MTV and get some fresh air. But more seems to be at stake in urging teens to use their phone responsibly, and there are benefits to be gained even if all we instill in our children is the importance of moderation. Significant effects on both mental health and sleep time appear after two or more hours a day on electronic devices. The average teen spends about two and a half hours a day on electronic devices. Some mild boundary-setting could keep kids from falling into harmful habits.
In my conversations with teens, I saw hopeful signs that kids themselves are beginning to link some of their troubles to their ever-present phone. Athena told me that when she does spend time with her friends in person, they are often looking at their device instead of at her. “I’m trying to talk to them about something, and they don’t actually look at my face,” she said. “They’re looking at their phone, or they’re looking at their Apple Watch.” “What does that feel like, when you’re trying to talk to somebody face-to-face and they’re not looking at you?,” I asked. “It kind of hurts,” she said. “It hurts. I know my parents’ generation didn’t do that. I could be talking about something super important to me, and they wouldn’t even be listening.”
Once, she told me, she was hanging out with a friend who was texting her boyfriend. “I was trying to talk to her about my family, and what was going on, and she was like, ‘Uh-huh, yeah, whatever.’ So I took her phone out of her hands and I threw it at my wall.”
I couldn’t help laughing. “You play volleyball,” I said. “Do you have a pretty good arm?” “Yep,” she replied.
I was ready for my first advisory board meeting at Blackboard, an educational software company in Washington, D.C. Most 17-year-olds don’t go to eight-hour board meetings, but Blackboard had invited me to participate as a member of the generation that the company serves. The board members thought I could give them some ideas about what makes us different from the people who came before us.
I was honored but mainly petrified, afraid I would disappoint them. I knew that many boards lack a younger voice and wanted to set an example so that they would know that we are worth bringing to the table.
When I entered the big conference room, a vice president named Craig Chanoff asked me to sit next to him. Whew. I felt as if I were being invited to the right table in the cafeteria on the first day of high school. And there was another good thing: I was comfortable with Blackboard’s business.
The company has an app that helps high school students identify our interests and narrow down our college choices. Something I find very cool about this app is that it is very visual and easy to navigate.
So when an executive began talking to the board about marketing strategies for Blackboard’s new services, I felt I knew what he was talking about.
But when he started to get into specifics, I noticed that other people were pulling out their laptops and notepads. I knew I had better take notes, so I reached for my phone. That’s what I like to use. The next presentation was even more intense and detailed, and I typed out as much as I could and thought I was keeping up pretty well.
Before I knew it, it was time for a break. Two hours had gone by, and I realized that I could get through eight hours of this. My thumbs would be sore from all the note taking, but I didn’t think I had looked like an idiot, which was my main concern.
If I could figure out a way to pipe up with some opinions in the afternoon sessions, I might just feel good about my first meeting. As I headed to the bathroom feeling on top of my advisory board game, Craig pulled me aside and said, “Listen, you’re doing great, but I want you to be super-successful here.”
“Many board members noticed that you were on your phone a lot,” he said. “If you can hold out on texting friends or checking your Twitter feed until the breaks, that would be great.”
Mission failed. Now I did feel like an idiot.
But I was also quite angry. The thing is, I hadn’t checked my Twitter feed for over two hours. I’d been taking notes.
I walked down the hall and began to think. I realized that my friends and I are glued to our phones all day long. That’s just the way we are. Phones are crucial to our identities and lifestyle. Telling people in my generation to put our phones away is not a solution. Just ask our teachers how that has worked for them.
Even so, the workplace is not ready for how often we are going to pull out our phones. Rather than fight it, I think the other generations are going to have to learn to let go and adapt to us. The reality is that social media breaks take less than 15 seconds and can be re-energizing. That’s less time than the widely accepted practice of taking breaks for coffee or snacks.
That said, there is no denying that we will need to be mentored so we know when even a 15-second break is unacceptable. The good news is that teachers have been trying to coach us about this for years. We can learn and we can adapt, if the other generations adapt, too.
What really upset me at the meeting was the assumption that by pulling out my phone, I wasn’t paying attention. I’m a digital native. My friends and I have only known a world where phones are smart. My iPhone is a computer, and it’s natural to take notes on it.
I thought I was being diligent, yet they thought I was being rude. I even thought I was being efficient by quickly looking up something online and not missing a beat, and they thought I was playing video games. Clearly, my generation cannot assume the older generations know how we use technology.
Rather than allow others to see our phones as a distraction, we have work to do to prove that our phones are vital tools that we need to get the job done.
Just as I was feeling better about what had happened, my phone buzzed. It was a text from Craig that said: “Hurry up. We are starting again soon.” And so I walked back to the conference room.
As much as I hated the feeling of being reprimanded, I was glad that Craig had pulled me aside and had given me a heads-up. So before we resumed the meeting, I told him that I had been taking notes on my phone, and not using it to text or check Twitter or any other social media.
Craig seemed to appreciate that. And he was nice enough to announce after the break that if anyone needed notes from the earlier presentations, I could text them from my phone. I knew what he was doing and why. My generation will need mentors like Craig who will listen to us and look out for us.
The many men, women and children who spend their days glued to their smartphones and social media accounts might learn something from Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the groundbreaking megahit “Hamilton.” Asked in an interview with Delta Sky magazine when and where he finds time to be creative, Mr. Miranda, an avid reader of books and enthusiast for unfettered downtime, replied: “The good idea comes in the moment of rest. It comes in the shower. It comes when you’re doodling or playing trains with your son. ‘Hamilton’ forced me to double down on being awake to the inspirations of just living my life.”
Mr. Miranda’s observation bodes ill for the future, not just of creativity but also of healthy bodies, minds and relationships. No doubt you’ve seen the following scenarios, probably many times:
• Young couples out to dinner pull out their smartphones to check messages, emails and social networks even before scanning the menu, and check their phones repeatedly throughout the meal.
• Shoppers and commuters standing in line, people crossing busy streets, even cyclists and drivers whose eyes are on their phones instead of their surroundings.
• Toddlers in strollers playing with a digital device — a parent’s or perhaps even their own — instead of observing and learning from the world around them.
Observations like these have prompted a New York psychotherapist to ask, “What really matters?” in life. In her enlightening new book, “The Power of Off,” Nancy Colier observes that “we are spending far too much of our time doing things that don’t really matter to us.” Both in and outside her practice, she has encountered many people who have become “disconnected from what really matters, from what makes us feel nourished and grounded as human beings.”
The near-universal access to digital technology, starting at ever younger ages, is transforming modern society in ways that can have negative effects on physical and mental health, neurological development and personal relationships, not to mention safety on our roads and sidewalks.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Luddite. I love technology. I love the convenience and assistance afforded by the myriad apps on my cellphone, a pocket-size information bank. I remember being amazed, as a Times reporter back in the early 1980s, when I started using word processing and realized how much faster I could write an article. Now computers save tons of time and effort and avert countless embarrassing errors because I can look up facts, figures, spelling, definitions and scholarly publications without leaving my ergonomic chair.
But I also love putting my computer in sleep mode and going for a walk with my dog, meeting and chatting with friends, acquaintances and strangers, some of whom have become friends.
As with so much else in life, moderation in our digital world should be the hallmark of a healthy relationship with technology. Too many of us have become slaves to the devices that were supposed to free us, giving us more time to experience life and the people we love. Instead, we’re constantly bombarded by bells, buzzes and chimes that alert us to messages we feel compelled to view and respond to immediately.
“Most people now check their smartphones 150 times per day, or every six minutes,” Ms. Colier wrote. “And young adults are now sending an average of 110 texts per day.” Furthermore, she added, “46 percent of smartphone users now say that their devices are something they ‘couldn’t live without.’”
In “The World Unplugged Project,” investigators at the University of Maryland reported that “a clear majority” of students in the 10 countries studied experienced distress when they tried to go without their devices for 24 hours. One in three people admitted they’d rather give up sex than their smartphones.
I fear we are turning into digital robots. Will future generations know how to converse with one another face to face? Will they notice the birds, trees, sunrise and the people with whom they share the planet?
Instead of visiting art galleries, attending concerts or walking on picturesque wooded paths, one woman I know who came to Woodstock, N.Y., last summer spent the weekend on her iPad communing with her many “friends” on Facebook. All I could think was “What a waste!”
Why, you may ask, is it so important to limit our digital lives? “Without open spaces and downtime, the nervous system never shuts down — it’s in constant fight-or-flight mode,” Ms. Colier said in an interview. “We’re wired and tired all the time. Even computers reboot, but we’re not doing it.”
She continued, “It’s connections to other human beings — real-life connections, not digital ones — that nourish us and make us feel like we count. Our presence, our full attention is the most important thing we can give each other. Digital communications don’t result in deeper connections, in feeling loved and supported.”
How often is your real work interrupted by signals from your smartphone that you find impossible to ignore? Have you ever avoided intimacy with your partner because you’re in the midst of iPhone Scrabble? Is endlessly snapping selfies and posting your every action and thought on social media creating an unhealthy self-centeredness?
As for physical well-being, every hour spent on a device is likely to be an indoor, sedentary one. Screens are stealing time that children and adolescents should be spending on physical activity and sports, reading, or creating and engaging directly with other children, all of which are critical to healthy physical and social development.
“Children who overuse online media are at risk of problematic internet use, and heavy users of video games are at risk of internet gaming disorder” (translation: addiction), the American Academy of Pediatrics wrote in its latest policy statement on media use.
Ms. Colier, a licensed clinical social worker, said, “The only difference between digital addiction and other addictions is that this is a socially condoned behavior.” While her book contains a 30-day digital detox program, in our interview she offered three steps to help curb one’s digital dependence.
1. Start by recognizing how much digital use is really needed, say, for work or navigation or letting family members know you’re O.K., and what is merely a habit of responding, posting and self-distraction.
2. Make little changes. Refrain from using your device while eating or spending time with friends, and add one thing a day that’s done without the phone.
3. Become very conscious of what is important to you, what really nourishes you, and devote more time and attention to it.
Here’s a sure-fire recipe for making family dinners great.
When devices are at the dinner table, it’s so easy for a “quick text” or “just one video” to turn a meal into a digital free-for-all, even if you have screen-time rules. In fact, 76 percent of parents are concerned that using mobile devices during family dinner takes away from quality conversations.
So what can your family do to keep dinner full of fun, memorable moments instead of texts and tweets? Take the #DeviceFreeDinner Challenge and make a shared commitment to keeping devices away from the dinner table. It’s a small step that makes a big difference. After all, research shows that dinner-table conversations lead to healthier, happier kids.
Sign up and you’ll get the #DeviceFreeDinner Family Starter Kit, full of age-appropriate tips, tools, and advice to get your family started with fun device-free dinners. Try it tonight.
Teachers and students pulled out their smartphones when President Obama visited Mooresville Middle School in Mooresville, N.C., in 2013. On average, children are getting their first smartphones around age 10. Credit Jewel Samad/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
NOT long ago, many parents wondered at what age they should give their child full access to the car keys. Nowadays, parents face a trickier question: At what age should a child own a smartphone?
The smartphone, after all, is the key to unfettered access to the internet and the many benefits and dangers that come with it. But unlike driving a car, which is legal in some states starting at the age of 16, there is no legal guideline for a parent to determine when a child may be ready for a smartphone.
The topic is being increasingly debated as children get smartphones at an ever younger age. On average, children are getting their first smartphones around age 10, according to the research firm Influence Central, down from age 12 in 2012. For some children, smartphone ownership starts even sooner — including second graders as young as 7, according to internet safety experts.
“I think that age is going to trend even younger, because parents are getting tired of handing their smartphones to their kids,” said Stacy DeBroff, chief executive of Influence Central.
The downward age creep is meeting resistance. James P. Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that reviews content and products for families, has a strict rule for his family: His children get a smartphone only when they start high school — after they have learned restraint and the value of face-to-face communication.
But Mr. Steyer added that other parents might decide that their children are ready sooner. “No two kids are the same, and there’s no magic number,” he said. “A kid’s age is not as important as his or her own responsibility or maturity level.”
So how do you determine the right time? To come up with some guidelines, I interviewed internet safety experts and combed through studies on smartphone use among children. I also asked for parents’ advice on regulating smartphone use and keeping children safe.
The takeaway will not please smartphone makers: The longer you wait to give your children a smartphone, the better. Some experts said 12 was the ideal age, while others said 14. All agreed later was safer because smartphones can be addictive distractions that detract from schoolwork while exposing children to issues like online bullies, child predators or sexting.
“The longer you keep Pandora’s box shut, the better off you are,” said Jesse Weinberger, an internet safety speaker based in Ohio who gives presentations to parents, schools and law enforcement officials. “There’s no connection to the dark side without the device.”
Let’s start with some of the data. Ms. Weinberger, who wrote the smartphone and internet safety book “The Boogeyman Exists: And He’s in Your Child’s Back Pocket,” said she had surveyed 70,000 children in the last 18 months and found that, on average, sexting began in the fifth grade, pornography consumption began when children turned 8, and pornography addiction began around age 11.
In a separate study published this year, Common Sense Media polled 1,240 parents and children and found 50 percent of the children admitted that they were addicted to their smartphones. It also found that 66 percent of parents felt their children used mobile devices too much, and 52 percent of children agreed. About 36 percent of parents said they argued with their children daily about device use.
There is also biology to consider. The prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that controls impulse, finishes developing in the mid-20s. In other words, parents should not be surprised if younger children with smartphones lack impulse control.
Pros and Cons
Smartphones undoubtedly bring benefits. With the devices, children gain access to powerful apps, including education tools for studying, chat apps for connecting with friends and the wealth of information on the web.
But they also are one step closer to distracting games, sexting apps and social media apps where online bullies are on the prowl. Even older children are not immune: Last year, at least 100 students at a Colorado high school were embroiled in a scandal that involved trading naked pictures of themselves on their mobile devices.
In the end, such cons may outweigh the pros, Ms. Weinberger said. If you hold off giving smartphones to children, many still have access to technology tools through devices like computers and tablets, she added. The main difference with a smartphone is that it is with a child everywhere, including outside of parental supervision.
Ultimately, parents will determine when their child truly needs a smartphone. When that time comes, there are approaches for testing the waters before handing one to the child.
One popular option is to start the child off with dumbed-down mobile devices, like feature phones that can only send text messages or place phone calls, and to assess whether they can use those devices responsibly.
Lynn Muscat, a parent in San Francisco, said she had considered buying a “dumb phone” for her 10-year-old son to keep in touch while he was at summer camp. She ended up buying the LG GizmoGadget, a Verizon smartwatch that has calling and texting capabilities and a locked-down list of contacts so that her son could interact only with people she had approved.
Ms. Muscat said she did not consider buying her child a smartphone partly because she felt the device would make him a target for muggers. She also was not appreciative of how smartphones had affected other children around him.
“It drives me nuts when I see his friends on it all the time — it seems very antisocial,” Ms. Muscat said. She said she planned to use the smartwatch to teach the responsibilities of using a mobile device safely before her son eventually earns the privilege of carrying a smartphone.
When you decide that it’s time to bestow a smartphone on your child, there are ways to set limits. To help parents enforce rules consistently, Ms. Weinberger has published a family contract listing the rules of smartphone use, which includes promises never to take nude selfies and never to try to meet strangers from the internet in real life. Parents state what the consequences are for breaking the rules, and the child must sign the contract before receiving a smartphone.
Mr. Steyer of Common Sense Media said he set other limits, like no smartphones at the dinner table and no phones in the classroom. If his children break the rules, he takes their phones away.
There are some phone settings that can help keep children safe when they do get smartphones.
For iPhones, Apple offers a switchboard full of features that parents can enable or disable, including the ability to restrict the Safari browser from gaining access to adult content and the ability to prevent apps from using cellular data. The iPhone’s parental controls live inside the Settings app in a menu labeled Restrictions.
Android phones lack similar built-in parental control settings, though there are many apps in the Google Play app store that let parents add restrictions. Ms. Weinberger highlighted the app Qustodio, which lets parents monitor their children’s text messages, disable apps at certain times of day or even shut off a smartphone remotely. While that can be an aggressive approach to restricting a child’s smartphone, Ms. Weinberger said her job as a parent was not to make her children like her.
“My only job as a parent is to prepare you for the day you leave,” she said. “If that’s the case, I have to keep you safe, and you’re not going to like some of the things I say — and that’s O.K.”
Executive Editor, Parenting Content | Mom of two 1/25/2016
If you own a smartphone, chances are, you love it. You take pictures of your kids, stay in touch with friends and family, keep up with the news, and text your spouse reminders to pick up milk. It’s likely never more than an arm’s reach away, and it probably even journeys into the bathroom with you. It’s 2016, and that’s totally normal.
But despite your love for your phone, you probably also feel guilty about using it around your kids too much. You’ve heard experts predict the end of human connection thanks to iPhones, and you don’t want to be lumped in with the parents who ignore their kids during dinner because they’re absorbed in Candy Crush. And while science hasn’t proven anything yet, it’s likely that today’s parents are a bit more distracted than they used to be.
So how can we embrace modern parenting, with the magic of technology at our fingertips, while still being responsible parents who aren’t too addicted to their little devices?
It’s all about taking control over your phone instead of letting it control you. In a nutshell: Put down your phone.
Phones have become so embedded in our lives that checking email or Twitter or baseball scores has become a habit. If you have any doubt about how addicted you are to your phone, try leaving it at home one day. You might be surprised at how often you reach for it (and then realize you actually can get along fine without it). To keep your phone use in check — especially around your kids — try creating new habits. First, disable all but the most crucial notifications that keep you constantly looking at your phone. And then, before you check your phone, ask yourself: Why am I checking my phone? If you don’t have a good reason, put it down.
Be a Role Model
Don’t you hate being ignored by someone who’s staring at their phone? It’s annoying, to say the least. And that’s just how your kids feel when they see you staring at your tiny screen when they’re trying to show you their new dance moves. Two tips: First, narrate what you’re doing on the phone. Kids might not be able to tell that you’re looking up directions to their friend’s birthday party unless you tell them. Second, if you really are ignoring them while you play Candy Crush Soda Saga or “research” old boyfriends on Facebook, it might be time to rethink when and where you use your phone. If you limit your extracurricular phone time, you’ll be better able to expect the same from your kids.
Not everything online is evil, nor does danger lurk behind every new app that comes to market. But keeping up with your teens’ and preteens’ online activities is much like trying to nail jelly to the barn door — frustrating, futile and something bound to make you feel inept.
Keep in mind that no app poses a danger in and of itself, but many do provide kids with an opportunity to make, ahem, bad choices.
1. Audio Manager.
Sometimes when it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s really not a duck. Such is the case with Audio Manager, an app that has nothing to do with managing your teen’s music files or controlling the volume on his smartphone and everything to do with him hiding things like nude photos from you. It’s one of the top apps for hiding other apps.
Yes, there are such things. Kids can hide any app they don’t want you to see, Teen Safe says. When you press and hold the Audio Manager app, a lock screen is revealed — behind which users can hide messages, photos, videos, and other apps.
Same deal, but this time with a calculator icon posing as something it isn’t. Sedgrid Lewis, online safety expert, notes that these apps look like a normal calculator app but when teens push a button within the app they can hide all inappropriate pictures. “It’s a key way teens are hiding their nude pictures from their parents,” said Lewis.
Lewis says the best way to solve this situation is for parents to add their teen to their iCloud account. That way, whenever a new app is downloaded by the teen, it will automatically download to the parent’s phone as well.
Think it’s not serious? Last fall, there was a headline-making case in a Colorado high school where teens used apps to hide a huge sexting ring from parents and school officials. And an Alabama district attorney, Pamela Casey, posted the video below to warn parents about the Calculator% app.
Vaulty will not only store photos and videos away from parental spying eyes, but it also will snap a photo of anyone who tries to access the “vault” with the wrong password. Parents who find it on their teens’ phones can conclude just one thing: Your kid is hiding things from you.
OK, so you’ve undoubtedly heard of Snapchat, an app that allows you to send a photo or video from your phone and determine how long the person on the other end can see the image until it self-destructs. But what you probably didn’t know is that a lot of images from Snapchat are regularly posted to revenge porn sites, called “snap porn.”
Snapchat may not be the #1 app used for sexting but that’s not to say it isn’t theprincipal appeal of the app for many: Users think their snaps will disappear and they are wrong. It’s actually pretty easy to recover a Snap, take a screenshot of it and share it with others — and by others, we mean porn sites. No parent wants to find a photo of their teen daughter or son on sites like snapperparty or sexting forum.
Not for nothing, Snapchat last year published a “Snapchat Safety Center” reminding kids that nude pictures were not allowed. “Don’t use Snapchat for any illegal shenanigans and if you’re under 18 or are Snapping with someone who might be: Keep your clothes on!” the company wrote.
The reality is, Snapchat is likely on your kid’s phone. The best control you have (besides taking the phone away) is to just have a frank heart-to-heart about how there is no such thing as texts or photos that disappear and this is some down-and-dirty stuff that can come back to haunt them.
5. Burn Note.
Like Snapchat, Burn Note is a messaging app that erases messages after a set period of time. Unlike Snapchat, this one is for text messages only, not photos or videos. Burn Note’s display system shows just one word at a time, adding a sense of secrecy to the messages. Again, by promising a complete delete, kids could feel more comfortable revealing more than what they would do otherwise. And again, capturing a screenshot so that the message can be shared and lives forever, may be the app’s Achilles’ heel.
Even if your kid doesn’t have the app and has no interest in reading super secret messages, she could unwittingly get involved: The app sends a Burn Note alert that she has a message waiting. Curiosity can kill the cat and an app like this could encourage cyberbullying when kids feel they can get away with things because there will be no record of it.
This is a real up-and-coming app, says online safety expert Lewis. It’s an all-in-one mobile hub for chatting, sharing photos and videos; free texting and video calls too. But the devil is in the details. Things can get dicey with the hidden chat feature; users can decide how long their messages can last (two seconds or a week). But the biggest shock may come to your credit card: Your kid can rack up some hefty in-app charges on Line as well. While the app says that minors need their parents’ permission to use it, there is no monitoring to ensure this takes place.
Bottom line: If your kid doesn’t have a credit card number, you are controlling access to his in-app purchases.
Omegle provides users with a chance to converse online with random strangers. Is there anything that strikes fear into a parent’s heart faster than that sentence?
We turn to our friends at Common Sense Media for this review: “Parents need to know that Omegle is an anonymous chat client with which users discuss anything they’d like. This can easily result in conversations that are filled with explicit sexual content, lewd language, and references to drugs, alcohol, and violence. Many users ask for personal data upfront, including location, age, and gender [ASL], something kids might supply (not realizing they don’t have to). Adults wishing to chat anonymously may find use in this app, but kids should be kept far away.”
‘Nuff said. And it took us awhile to find a photo with language that was publishable.
Tinder is a popular app used for hooking-up and dating that allows users to “rate” profiles and locate hookups via GPS tracking. It is too easy for adults and minors to find one another. And the rating system can be used for cyber-bullying; a group of kids can target another kid and intentionally make his/her rating go down.
Blendr’s 300 million users meet new people through GPS location services. You can message, exchange photos and videos, and rate the “hotness” of other users (encouraging your kid to engage in superficial values at best). But since there are no authentication requirements, sexual predators can contact minors and minors can hook up with adults — and of course there is the sexting, notes ForEveryMom.com.
10. KiK Messenger.
KiK is an instant messaging app that lets users exchange videos, photos and sketches. Users can also create gifs. All well and good so far. Unfortunately, the term “sext buddy” has been replaced with “KiK buddy.” Sex researcher Megan Maas, wrote on ForEveryMom.com that kids are using Reddit and other forums to place classified ads for sex by giving out their KiK usernames. KiK does not offer any parental controls and there is no way of authenticating users, thus making it easy for sexual predators to use the app to interact with minors.
11. Yik Yak.
Yik Yak is the “Twitter meets Reddit” app. It allows users to post text-only “Yaks” of up to 200 characters that can be viewed by the 500 Yakkers who are closest to the person who wrote the Yak, as determined by GPS tracking. The issue is that these other users are regularly exposed to a barage of sexually explicit content, profanity and even personal attacks– anonymously, of course. It’s also the app du jour for sending a bomb threat to your school. Yes, that has happened.
Elizabeth Long, an Atlanta teenager who was encouraged on Yik Yak to try harder to kill herself after her attempted suicide failed, led a Change.org drive to shut the app down. She wrote, “With the shield of anonymity, users [of Yik Yak] have zero accountability for their posts, and can openly spread rumors, call classmates hurtful names, send threats, or even tell someone to kill themselves — and all of these things are happening.”
This is one of the most popular social networking sites that is almost exclusively used by kids. It is a Q&A site where users can ask other users questions anonymously. The problem is that kids sometimes target one person and the questions get nasty. It is cyberbullying with no chance of ever getting caught. Ask.fm had been associated with nine documented cases of suicide in the U.S. and the U.K. through 2012. In 2014, its new owners pledged to crack down on bullying or said they would shut down the site.