Is Your Child's Cell Phone Stunting Their Growth?

There’s a lot of growing going on in my house these days. I’m at that strange stage of parenting where I’m painfully realizing that my job is to help my kids to not need me. That’s the goal, right? As my oldest is headed to high school in the fall, and my middle child will be entering middle school, I am realizing that I am running out of time for the whole teach-them-how-to-function-independently-as-an-adult thing.

The end of this school year is causing great reflection for me. Approaching 16 years into my marriage, I feel like I’m just getting the swing of this whole responsible-adult-raising-kids role. And now the sand is tornadoing to the center of the hour-glass. We all know that it moves faster at that point. However, a theme has been creeping up in some of my reading: over-parenting. In our attempts to be all that we can be as a parent, it seems that we are forgetting that the children need to turn into adults.

This may make some parents happy. Just the other day, my nearly 14-year-old asked me, while I was clearly busy, if I could make her an ice cream cone. I looked at her. Paused. “You’re almost 14, shouldn’t you consider making your own ice cream cone?” “But you make them better.” I fell for it. Well, that’s probably true, I thought. My nurturing impulse kicked in and I gratified her request. Afterwards, I questioned myself. What’s so bad about letting her make a mediocre ice cream cone herself?  I think that would have been better for her. Unless one day her life depends on making a stellar ice cream cone for an evil dictator, and I am contributing to her demise. OK, maybe not, but it would have helped her to grow up a bit, and to learn that she’s not the center of the world. Opportunity missed.

There comes a time in every parent’s life where we have to make that scary decision that our child is ready to wipe their own tush. Of course they’re not going to do it as good as us. But they have to learn. It’s our job to teach them well, and leave them to their business. We are still there if they need some advice. I find myself now wondering which apron strings to loosen as my kids are growing. Do I still need to regulate every calorie that goes into their mouths? Do I let them go to school not listening to my advice that their outfit just isn’t working out, or do I make them change? At what point should I stop editing their papers and let them find out for themselves through the red pen?

This all goes back to the Psychology Today  article that I referenced to earlier, A Nation of Wimps. Instead of healthy, functioning adults, are we raising a bunch of co-dependent, anxious, namby-pambies? The article suggests that the cell phone is functioning as an eternal umbilicus that we are all too happy to continue coddling our children through. Here’s an excerpt of my favorite part that makes the point oh too well:

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?'"

If I am running five minutes late, I get the text, “Are you coming?” Or, a half hour before time to pick my daughter up from school I may be alerted with, “I’m so thirsty, please bring a water bottle.” I get pictures sent to my phone while my daughter is out and about. It feels great that she’s thinking of me. And I have the benefit of knowing that a psycho-maniac has not abducted her while she’s away from me (just a little fear of mine). But is it good for our children to have this constant communication with us?

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.

Again, I encourage you to read this article for yourself. Studies are showing that our children are missing out on major coping skills and it is leading to depression, immaturity, short-sightedness, and curtailing their intelligence. Of course, this isn’t just a Christian issue, but I think our faith has a lot to do with over-parenting. We should certainly take our responsibility in raising kids seriously. As Christians, we know at a deeper lever what a privilege our vocation is. But as I mentioned before, we are hurting our children when we perpetually step in as their savior. This is hard. Our vocation is to reflect, to point to, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But as our children grow, we need to make sure we are not usurping his title.

As far as the cell phone is concerned, I wonder if we are stunting our child’s prayer life when we are their constant lifeline? Instead of remembering to pray without ceasing, our children can just pick up the phone—“Let me ask mom…” Even in our relationship with God, we don’t have this kind of growth-stunting immediate response. We are called to seek him continuously in prayer, confident that he is working all things for the glory of his Son and our good. But we hold to his authoritative Word revealed in Scripture. We need to study it, mediate on it, and all the while, the Holy Spirit helps us to recall it as we make our decisions throughout the day. This is how God works to grow us in wisdom. He doesn’t verbally tell us what to make for dinner or how to dress each day. He lets us wrestle with the everyday issues as we apply his Word and grow in wisdom. He is our God, not our crutch.

Cell phones aren’t evil, and I’m not going to confiscate my daughter’s (at this time). But I have a lot of thinking to do in this area. I’ll start small with the ice cream cone…