virtual children by Scott Warnock

Phones and drugs and rock & roll

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With three teenagers, I’m getting on the other side of it – could it be this column may have run its course?! – and now I feel I have some hard-earned perspective to provide to people just starting this kid-raising bit. One of my starters: Keep them off the phones as long as you can.

It’s pretty tough, I know. The pressure to get them the dang phone is rough, and that pressure starts when they are wee. You do love ’em, after all, and they’ll beg and plead about how happy it will make them and present good evidence that they should have a phone, often based on friend phone ownership.

You’ll give in for various reasons. One of the most-worn arguments that’ll nestle itself in your brain is safety, usually coupled with your wanting to know where they are. But here’s a well-worn counterpoint that’s worth reiterating here: Generations of children survived without cell phones, including latchkey kids like the Warnocks. We got by.

If that’s your big concern, get them airhorns.

You certainly can build lots of anti-phone arguments, including the time-waste and sloth that accompanies them, the digital cruelty that they engage in with these always-onhand devices, the solipsistic lifestyle phones breed, the way they erode attention spans.

Then there’s the obvious digital addictiveness. Watching my own kids’ behavior, it’s clear there’s something wrong here.

Addiction. That should be argument enough. However, even that perhaps most solid chunk of evidence for forcing phonelessness on your kids for as long as possible might be subject to question. Could digital addiction be good? A recent piece in The New York Times, Are Teenagers Replacing Drugs With Smartphones?“, starts by describing what is I’m sure no surprise to most: That cell phones are possibly addictive. “People are carrying around a portable dopamine pump,” said a Dr. David Greenfield in the article, “and kids have basically been carrying it around for the last 10 years.”

You’ve probably sensed this addictiveness, but a growing scientific validation may change the way these things are created, sold, marketed. Maybe we’ll be free of these devices!

But the article then raises a provocative, tricky question, hinging on this observation: The use of phones and similar devices “has exploded over the same period that drug use has declined.”

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in the article that interactive media might be an “alternate reinforcer” to drugs: “teens can literally get high when playing these games.” One teen even described using the phone to look like she was doing something when others were smoking pot.

So what if cell phones are replacing substance addictions? If by playing Candy Crush for hours (and hours…), kids are staying out of the medicine cabinet lair of the opioids, isn’t that a net gain?

Sure, they might still drive off a cliff while Snapchatting. And is there any addiction that’s a good addiction? Apples? Walks in the park? Being nice to old people?

Regardless, this news, to me, certainly complicates that straightforward put-the-damn-phone-away parenting. We never do know it all. The struggle to say “no” to hand-held, digital technology is epic enough, and now this?

Cell phones vs., uh, crack? Yes, these are the kind of tough decisions that make parenting the splendid adventure that it is.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.

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One Response to “Phones and drugs and rock & roll”

  1. Scott, The constant rapid evolution of information technology has taken its current form in the iPhone/smart-phone/portable computerphone technology and although I do not have kids, I was once one myself, believe it or not. Recently, in revisiting my favorite very early TV (speaking of addictions) show “Dobie Gillis” on YouTube and I saw an episode where Maynard G. Krebs, the early parody of a Beatnik, shows off his portable radio with an earplug to his friends, boasting that he can appear to be paying attention in class while really grooving to the music of Dizzie Gillespie. If cell phones can distract kids from crack, power to them. — Don Riggs

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