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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Cellphones - The Modern Leash - Part 2

In November I published a post discussing some of the educational/parenting issues around the use of mobile phones. Yesterday I came across an interesting post by Ed Hawco called "Is safer necessarily better?" relating to this same topic. I find myself agreeing very much with his message, which was basically that we need to emphasize parenting and not only rely on "parental control" technology where the use of mobile devices by children is concerned.

In general, I find that many parents address raising children as an exercise in protecting children from the real world. They do their utmost to prevent their children from experiencing failure and do not require them to take responsibility. The parents are constantly stepping in to resolve issues for children of all ages. Ed points to a Psychology Today article entitled "A Nation of Whimps", by Hara Estroff Marano which I enjoyed very much. Below is an excerpt from the article which is very relevant to our discussion.

It's bad enough that today's children are raised in a psychological hothouse where they are overmonitored and oversheltered. But that hothouse no longer has geographical or temporal boundaries. For that you can thank the cell phone. Even in college, or perhaps especially at college, students are typically in contact with their parents several times a day, reporting every flicker of experience. One long-distance call overheard on a recent cross-campus walk: "Hi, Mom. I just got an ice-cream cone; can you believe they put sprinkles on the bottom as well as on top?"

"Kids are constantly talking to parents," laments Cornell student Kramer, which makes them perpetually homesick. Of course, they're not telling the folks everything, notes Portmann. "They're not calling their parents to say, 'I really went wild last Friday at the frat house and now I might have chlamydia. Should I go to the student health center?'"

The perpetual access to parents infantilizes the young, keeping them in a permanent state of dependency. Whenever the slightest difficulty arises, "they're constantly referring to their parents for guidance," reports Kramer. They're not learning how to manage for themselves.

Think of the cell phone as the eternal umbilicus. One of the ways we grow up is by internalizing an image of Mom and Dad and the values and advice they imparted over the early years. Then, whenever we find ourselves faced with uncertainty or difficulty, we call on that internalized image. We become, in a way, all the wise adults we've had the privilege to know. " But cell phones keep kids from figuring out what to do," says Anderegg. "They've never internalized any images; all they've internalized is 'call Mom or Dad.'"

Some psychologists think we have yet to recognize the full impact of the cell phone on child development, because its use is so new. Although there are far too many variables to establish clear causes and effects, Indiana's Carducci believes that reliance on cell phones undermines the young by destroying the ability to plan ahead. "The first thing students do when they walk out the door of my classroom is flip open the cell phone. Ninety-five percent of the conversations go like this: 'I just got out of class; I'll see you in the library in five minutes.' Absent the phone, you'd have to make arrangements ahead of time; you'd have to think ahead."

While this article sounds quite bleak, I believe that mobile phones are a positive development even for children. It is a matter though of using it in a positive way. A screw driver can be a lethal weapon or a tool for development and innovation depending on how you use it.

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