I never realised just how damaging our obsession with smartphones and our switched-on lifestyle was, nor how addictive screen time was, until I put my teenagers on an extended digital detox. The results were swift and shocking, raising the question of just what is happening to the selfie generation and whether we have more to fear than just a bad Snapchat Story or a wasted day bingeing on Netflix.
It was out of desperation that I instructed my teenagers to go cold turkey from screen time for a term – thanks in part to the advice of our tutor who said they needed to study more to catch up in maths – and save up the things they wanted to do, even “go crazy”, after their exams.
Social media apps were deleted but I had to concede my children could keep their mobiles to text the tutor and use their laptops as part of the school’s Bring Your Own Device policy for homework and “research”.
The depth of the problem revealed itself almost immediately one bedtime when I sent an article to my kids via Facebook (for them to read later); and immediately one of their mobiles buzzed via the Messenger app I didn’t even know was there.
Further investigation revealed a folder set up in the phone that one daughter had ambitiously named “Do not look” and in there were the apps I had previously deleted.
I caught my other daughter once in her room offline, looking through the photo stream on her mobile – she explained she just wanted to go through the action of swiping.
I had long had the feeling that the fact we all seem increasingly stuck to the screen was no accident. And just days ago, Facebook’s ex-president Sean Parker admitted that in developing their ubiquitous social media products the creators of Facebook and Instagram consciously strives to manipulate people’s vulnerabilities so that their creations “consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible”, aiming to give users a little dopamine hit every time someone likes or comments on a photo.
Facebook, he said, “literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
– Vivienne Reiner
Read more: Teens on Digital Detox – The Shocking Results