Quick now, what’s the most serious form of potential addiction facing young people today? If you’re like me, you probably said something like “opioids” or “vaping.” A conversation with my stepson Andy Barker set me straight. The right answer, it seems, is high-tech addiction, although “the media” doesn’t cover this topic the way it does more sensationalist issues, such as opioids and vaping.

Andy, who runs the Burlington City & Lake Semester, told me about what happened to a teacher at Burlington High School after she banned the use of cell phones during Advisory. One student angrily complained that he had received 250 notifications from friends on Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and group conversations during that hour alone. Andy had some of his students do a study to determine how much time they spent texting friends. One student, as it happened, texted over 1000 times a week. Let that sink in.

Actually, you might not be surprised by that finding if you’ve been to any place where young people gather. Every single person is glued to their smartphones. And they’re not the only ones; see how many adults seem equally immersed in the wired world in restaurants or airports, oblivious to what’s going on around them.

After deciding to write about this phenomenon, I did some research. Here are some highlights:

Common Sense Media reports that teens spend an average of nine hours a day on digital technology, excluding work for school. The report noted that decline in teen mental health mirrored the peak of use of smartphones.

A study in the Lancet reported that when children ages 8-11 have screen time limited to under two hours a day (as recommend by the American Academy of Pediatrics), they perform better on cognitive tests.

In an article entitled, “The Shadow: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,” Nicholas Carr wrote that using the internet weakens our capacity for the kind of deep processing that underpins mindful knowledge acquisition, inductive analysis, critical thinking, imagination and reflection.”

A Wall Street Journal article, entitled “Phones Buzz in Class – with Texts

from Mom and Dad,” puts some of the blame for the ubiquity of cell phone use in schools on the parents themselves.

Studies have shown that the brain scans of young people with internet addiction disorder (IAD) are similar to those of people with substance addictions to alcohol, cannabis and cocaine.

Triston Harris gave a TED Talk entitled “How a handful of tech companies control billions of minds every day.” He puts the blame on these companies and their advertisers, which are vying for people’s free time.

Nicholas Kardaras, the author of “Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Highjacking Our Kids,” wrote, “We have as a society gone all-in on tech, so we don’t want some buzzkilling truthsayers telling us that the devices we’ve fallen in love with can be a problem.”

One observer noted that giving teens their own cell phone with no limits is like saying, “Here’s the liquor cabinet Help yourself any time you feel stressed.”

Whew! I next met with two English teachers at Brunswick High School to get their take on the matter. They didn’t hold back. Amy Russell, who’s taught at BHS for 25 years, declares, “Parents are really a problem. They have it in their minds that their kids have to have a phone with them at all times.”

Samantha Francis Taylor, a BHS teacher for 10 years, refers to the cell phone as, “Public Enemy Number One.” She notes that technology is designed to be addictive and that kids don’t know how to find a balance.

Amy and Samantha, who admit that they might be on the far end of the too-much-cell-phone-use-is-bad spectrum among their teaching peers, note an even bigger problem. Put simply, kids addicted to their phones don’t read enough. As a result, they haven’t developed the capacity to think and, as important, to write. They rue that good writing is seen as a 19th century elitist pursuit, and I share that concern.

In addition to the addiction possibility, too much hi-tech use prevents young people from learning how to develop real face-to-face connections with other people. In the end, it seems, hi-tech addicts get more lonely, not less lonely, because they don’t learn how to navigate the real world

What to do about this problem? Being aware of potential dangers of overusing the internet represents a good start. Parents (and grandparents) must set good examples for their children by putting their phones away and insisting that their kids do so during dinner and other family times. They must set time limits on their kids internet use. They must get the whole family involved in activities which don’t allow, let alone, require smart phones. Parents must also push for and back school policies, which severely limit (or, better, banish) cell phone use in schools. (Note to parents: you don’t need to have access to your kids 24 hours a day.)

Sermon ended. I better check my cellphone to see if I’ve received any emails or texts while writing this piece. Then again, maybe not.

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary and suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns. [email protected]

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: