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Dr. Christy Kane will be the keynote speaker at an event and panel discussion addressing the topic, “How Electronics are Changing the Brain and What Can be Done to Mitigate the Impact”. The event will be held September 13, 2018 at 7pm in the Lone Peak High School Auditorium in Cedar Hills, Utah. 

I have three children who grew up in an electronic world, and as both a mother and as a mental health professional I have encountered the amazing blessing these electronic devices have been in my children’s lives and others’ lives, as well as the negative impact these electronic devices have had in my children’s lives and the lives of their friends. A critical aspect which can help determine if the electronic use by children, adolescents, and even adults trends towards being uplifting and beneficial instead of destructive and emotionally debilitating in their lives is the concept of access.

I think most of us as parents were rather enamored and unprepared for the smart phone technology accessible world. Most of us bought our kids a smart phone thinking, “This will be a great way to keep track of my kids, a great way to stay in touch, and a safety net.” Little did most of us realize that not only would these smart phones allow our children to read their scriptures, share uplifting thoughts, research critical information, listen to a prophet’s voice, compose music, and provide academic growth, they would also be the gateway for ready access to pornography, comparison social media, dopamine addictive stimulating apps, social isolation, bullying, and a time trap which tends to engage people in activities that dull the senses and diminish brain development and growth, all the while intensifying feelings of aloneness and decreasing avenues for personal spiritual growth and development.

Today as more and more research is made available regarding how smart phones and social media are impacting teenagers and children, and as we watch the behavioral patterns of this amazing generation of youth in our society, we are grasping the reality that smart phones need to be part of our children’s lives based on age appropriateness and based on accessibility. For example, the American Pediatrics Association has issued a public statement that children under the age of two should not be given electronic devices to use. Pediatricians are seeing little kids more bonded to their smart phones or tablets than to their parents. The World Health Organization has recognized that depression and anxiety are the leading health care issues among young people today and have linked social media and smart phone interaction as a possible causation for the increases in mental health concerns and suicide rates.   I often say to parents and individuals during firesides and presentations that I give regarding how technology is impacting our kids, “We are creating the most social, anti-social generation of all time, and something needs to change.”

By design, our Heavenly Father created us to be social individuals, we need to talk face to face, hold hands, embrace, hear each other’s voice, and gain uplifting energy from each other’s presence. Smart phones take all that away. Thus, it is so important now, more than in any other time in the history of our world, that we make sure that along with cell phone access our kids have constant access to our embrace, our eyes, our voice, our hands, and our willingness to let them learn to lead, fall, stand up, create, and develop the God-like qualities they are endowed with. These are not found in a two-by-two screen.

We need to decide as individual families when a child should have a smart phone and then how much assess should they have. For example, does an 11-year-old need access to the World Wide Web or certain texting apps that place them at risk for running into predators? Should teenagers have a smart phone that sets no limits to the types of searches they can do on the web?   Should teenagers and children be allowed to use apps that run inappropriate ads for the purpose of opening up sexual content and often leading to the difficult and complicated world of pornography? Should boys and girls have access to apps that glorify self-harming and negativity? How much time should a kid spend in electronic use each day that is not for educational or work purposes?

I am sure you have seen a group of kids spending time together, and yet instead of verbally talking to each other, they are either texting each other or texting individuals who are not part of the group. How many of you have seen a husband and wife out to dinner and instead of engaging each other in eye-to-eye conversations they are both on their phones and ignoring the person across from them? How many of us have been in the middle of a conversation with a friend, and we get a text; and instead of staying focused on our friend, we say, “oh I need to get that?”

Smart phones are not going away. As a matter of fact, they are increasing in schools, in work, and even in our religious worship. So saying, “just throw them away” or taking them away from members of the family is not the answer. The answer is: moderation in all things while seeking to offer light, truth, and understanding by educating our children and ourselves about smart phones. We need to decide as a family, as parents, and even as the end users, “How much should I allow smart phones to impact my life and the lives of those I have stewardship for? What limitations should be set?” Smart phones most definitely have a place in our lives, but they should not be our lives.

Christy Kane PhD, CMHC