A letter from a psychologist dad to his high school aged daughter.
My Dearest Daughter,
As your first year of high school closes in on its last quarter, I want to first say how much I love you and how exciting it is to see you grow. It’s hard to believe that in a few short years you will be launching out on your own. I just hope that what your Mom and I have done, and will do, prepares you for the exciting and challenging world that lies ahead.
As part of our ongoing discussions, I know one of the things that you continue to desire is to have a phone of your own. Of course, with all your friends sporting their devices, and so much happening online, I don’t blame you for a second for wanting one.
We’ve talked about all the research related to serious problems with youth and their phones, including the risks with sleep, attention, your emotional state, spiritual life, social skills, and many other factors that make me concerned that parents are placing devices in the hands of youth who simply aren’t prepared for what can happen through that technology.
But beyond all this, I want you to know that your mother and I want something even more for you when it comes to this difficult decision. And it’s this — freedom.
You might think, “Wouldn’t giving me a phone give me the freedom I want?” Again, we understand why you might ask that. But let me explain the freedom I’m talking about.
It is the freedom from unnecessary distractions.
Of course, we are all going to be distracted at times, but what I’m describing is the constant buzz and temptations that so many of your classmates are experiencing every minute of the day. As you and I have discussed, once you have a phone, these distractions never leave you. Yet, what concerns me the most is that studies show that for many who experience this kind of constant arousal as youth, they struggle to focus and pay attention in ways that are needed the most for many years into adulthood.
It is the freedom from dependence.
I’ve spoken to many teens your age, and they all say the same thing: They don’t know what they’d do if they didn’t have their phones. Even in just a few short years (or even months) they say they’ve grown so dependent on their phones that they can’t imagine functioning without them. Whether it’s finding their way to a new place, communicating with others, or even handling awkward, boring moments, they need their phones, or otherwise they feel lost.
It is freedom from excessive anxiety.
Just as the phone can create dependence, it can also create anxiety that’s not good for you (and others). I realize that part of this anxiety comes with excitement from what the phone allows you to do. But as you and I both know, your classmates spend so much time worried about how others will respond to their posts and their chats that they sit in class scrolling through the latest post or text, or worry about what they will find on their phone when the bell rings. It makes it so much harder for them to focus on what they’re doing in the moment.
It is the freedom from unhealthy expectations.
Years ago, I was sitting on a panel talking to a few high school students and I asked them a question that I’ve asked many times before. Simply put, I asked them if they ever turned off their phones. These students looked at me, and said they “could,” but they never “would.” And the reason is that if they did, they not only would worry they had missed something important, but that others would wonder why they weren’t responding immediately. As with so many other teens, they confessed that if you have a phone, the expectation is that you respond as quickly as possible, otherwise something is wrong (with either you or them). To my mind, that is simply too much pressure for you to have at this time in your life.
It is the freedom from temptation and exploitation.
In my office at various times over the years, I’ve had a teenage girl like yourself—-from stable, loving, faithful households — describe to me how they were pressured or just asked to send nude images to a boy. They all knew it was wrong. They all knew that despite feeling excited that this boy saw them as attractive, they would regret the decision. And they did regret it, even years after it had occurred. In the best scenarios, these photos were never shared (to their knowledge) with anyone else. In the worst of scenarios, they were either passed along to the boy’s friends and many others, or used as blackmail to get even more nudes from them. And in every situation, these girls worried for a long time about where the pictures (and videos) might end up. Temptations to compromise yourself and subsequently be potentially exploited have always existed. But smart phones have turned this into something that happens instantly, every single day.
And finally, if all that isn’t enough, what we want most is for you to have the freedom to live as God would have you live. We understand that not having a phone has made it hard (and embarrassing) for you in some ways, and we hate that society supports a practice that is not best for you and your friends. But no matter what’s happening, we want you to have the freedom to listen to God’s call no matter where it takes you each day. I realize that having a phone doesn’t mean you can’t still hear and follow God’s call. But just as the seeds (as in the parable) that fall on fertile ground are more likely to grow than others, so we believe that tough decisions like this will give you the best chance to grow into the woman that you are called to be.
We understand the frustration you might feel towards us about this decision, but please know we are doing what we believe is best. And we hope that as you continue to grow, you will also continue to be free. We love you and are so proud of you.
Disconnect from your phones and connect to the Gospel, pope suggests for Lent