I was recently at an accepted-students day at a local university with my daughter, and the president of the university spoke of how youth these days live a “heads down” life. We need them to be more “heads up,” he said.
He is right.
He is quite literally right that our youth are “heads down.” Our children and teens, like the rest of us, have their faces in their phones more often than not. We’ve grown used to it. Everywhere we go, kids are looking down at their phones and other devices. This could have real implications not just now, but for their future — because looking down all the time has some real downsides.
There are five important ways living “heads down” is bad for our youth.
1. Safety. This is the obvious one. Anyone who does any driving anywhere has seen someone lost in their phone walk out into traffic — or worse, drive with their attention on their phone. We look down as we walk along a hallway or sidewalk and collide into others doing the same, or into doors, or poles, or other hazards. The university my daughter and I were visiting is an urban one, adding a whole other layer of danger: being aware of one’s surroundings is hard when you are looking at your device.
2. Health. Our devices tend to make us more sedentary. Too often, our kids are happy to curl up with their phones, their tablets, their computers, or their video games instead of being active. Kids should be active for an hour a day to be healthy, and devices get in the way of that. Since using devices is generally an indoor thing, kids also lose out on being outdoors, in the sunshine, which impacts health. Devices also get in the way of sleep. More and more, especially with teens, cell phones keep kids awake — and wake them up during the night. All of these factors could have both short- and long-term effects on health.
3. Anxiety. There is growing concern that social media fuels anxiety in our youth. Too often, youth feel measured by how many people click on or “like” their posts. They can feel like their lives pale in comparison to the lives of peers that look so successful and happy on social media. In so many ways, social media can make youth worry and feel inadequate.
4. Social connections. Not only do kids not notice people around them when they are on their devices, it’s becoming more common for kids to be on their phones even in social situations — rather than talking or otherwise interacting. Kids are at risk of losing the important social skills of making conversation and building relationships, and losing these skills could have lifelong implications.
5. Losing connection with the physical world. It’s not just about avoiding bumping into people or not learning how to make small talk. There is a bigger problem when people experience the world through devices. They miss out on experiencing the natural world and on all the hands-on experiences and skills the physical world provides.
There is much that devices can offer in terms of connection and information, so many ways they can make our lives streamlined and more efficient. But we owe it to our children to be sure that they live their lives in a “heads-up” way: fully engaged with everyone and everything around them.
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