It happened in an instant. One moment, the yellow school bus was thundering on its way, full of chattering 12-year-olds. The next instant, it hit an unseen pothole and bounced violently. Two classrooms of children were suddenly floating, airborne, as though they were cresting the top of an amusement park’s best roller coaster.
A moment later, the kids crashed to the ground. Teachers hurried back to take stock while I—a parent chaperone—talked to a few of the less affected students near the front of the bus.
“I was all right,” a nearby girl told me. “But Alyssa hit the roof.” She showed me her phone. The classroom of kids—the majority with smartphones anyway—had put their devices to work. Mere seconds had passed, but they were already dissecting the drama in a group chat.
If you’re a kid in high school or middle school, you more than likely have a smartphone as an ever-present companion. The average age for a child to get a first smartphone was 10 in 2016, down from 12 a few years earlier. The average young smartphone user is on their device around an hour a day (at first), then nearly three hours every day when they hit their teenage years.
Until there are large studies that follow children through years of early smartphone use, it will be impossible to draw accurate conclusions about their long-term effects.
Parenting has always been a tough job. But compared to the other anxiety-inducing hazards of modern life—television, computer games, dating, junk food—the smartphone is unique. Only a smartphone is embedded in our daily lives. It occupies a place of privilege, permanently by our side in a pocket or a purse. This placement gives it the possibility of influencing almost every activity and interaction we experience.
If you’re expecting an angry screed about the way smartphones change young lives—consuming hours of free time, taking focus from previously enjoyed activities, shortening attention spans—this isn’t it. In fact, the science around…