One day last summer I was enjoying myself at the State Fair with my kids until I lost my brand new iPhone. I'd put it in my back pocket so I'd hear my parents call when they arrived. Next thing I knew it was gone. That hot, itchy, hive-like pang of panic reminded me of the time I'd pulled an all-nighter writing an essay in college, only to lose all my work just as the sun was coming up and the deadline loomed near. This time was much worse.
"An iPhone 4?" the Lost & Found attendant asked, confirming with one incredulous look I would never see my little purple clad darling again.
I was desperate. I borrowed a phone to text mine and asked whoever "accidentally had it to please meet me by the tilt-a-whirl" and I'd give him or her $50 right then and there, no questions asked. The phone never buzzed.
For the next few days I had moments of panic when I reached for my phantom smart phone. I couldn't take calls at swim team practice or respond to e-mail as soon as it came in. I shivered when I thought of my Words With Friends games stretching out until (gasp) the server would automatically resign me. After a few days my jitters, like withdrawing from a drug, began to diminish and I was struck with inspiration. I wrote more and found new time to read. I didn't feel as anxious either.
After 10 days I finally got another phone, but one lesson I gleaned was to remember the way I felt, and how I actually survived, when I didn't have one.
This got me thinking about kids today, the first generation that has never known life without computers and smart phones and iPads. Today the average teen sends 54 text messages a day. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study states technology use is up dramatically among 8 to18-year-olds since 2004, and for minority youth it's even more. Not only do they have more televisions in their bedroom, but laptops, gaming devices and iPhones have boomed in their age demographic too.
But what's so bad about this? Haven't the latest fads in technology and innovation worried elders about brain rot since the beginning of time? Even Socrates worried the development of writing would be a poor substitute for the thoughts contained inside the human mind.
Education therapist Kristin France says the availability and constancy of so many forms of technology is dividing kids' attention, affecting the frontal lobe of the brain. In her 15 years in the education and neuroscience fields, France has seen an increase in students struggling with their executive functions (organization, attention, detail, etc.). This corresponds directly with the explosion of technology. While studying, the average student doesn't contend just with background music or maybe even a TV on in the background like my generation did. Today phones buzz repeatedly with text messages; game devices beckon and more. This is all proving to be too much for the brain to process and kids are beginning to suffer in school.
The New York Times recently reported adults are not immune to this phenomenon either. The German automaker Volkswagen is starting and stopping their company's internal e-mail server 30 minutes before and after work every day so their employees can't send or receive work emails 24/7. Apparently their employees are experiencing a high rate of burnout; sleepless nights and frazzled states are pointing to the constancy of media at our disposal.
What to do? "Don't be afraid of technology," says Kristin France, "It can be a wonderful tool. Just know how to use it wisely." One tip she offers is to shut down all technology one hour before bedtime at night, as it engages the brain and makes it harder to fall asleep.
According to the same Kaiser Family Study, only 3 in 10 kids have limits on technology use at home. It's hard for adults to set limits on themselves (believe me, I know), but we really need to model how to unplug. We are, after all, the ones who remember what life can be like when we just look out the window to think.
Julie Samrick is a stay-at-home mom to 4 young children and the founder of Kid Focused, a site for children and family issues today. Subscribe to the free Kid Focused newsletter, delivered weekly to your inbox. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com