There’s nothing more useful than a teen with a smartphone to get stuff done
Give Up Yer Aul Screens: ‘Their phones are extensions of their arms but that works for me too’
‘My life is full of muddles that I don’t imagine will ever bother them because the solution is just a few taps away.’ Photograph: iStock
Much as I would like my kids to look up from their phones and pay more attention to each other, to their unmade beds, to me, to a good book, to their grandparents when they come to visit, to the dogs whining to go on a walk, to the dinner they could lend a hand with making – I’m just not in a position to insist.
My own phone habit is atrocious and I dread the nightly message that tells me just how many hours I’ve spent during the day, scrolling and tapping and fending off ads for items my phone seems to know that I desire. It’s a lot of hours and it leaves me cranky by bedtime and too tired to pick up my own book.
But, back to the kids. Who in fact are not kids any more but young adults. Young adults who grew up in close proximity to screens of one kind or another. Yes, they had building bricks and Lego, and board games and cuddly toys and dolls and tea sets and transformers and Pokemon cards, but they watched a lot of TV. Early morning cartoons and afternoon shows and eventually all kinds of videos, then video games that went on for hours involving headsets and communicating with other players in other countries who could have been child molesters for all we knew.
That phase passed, and then they got mobile phones, then better mobile phones and then smart phones. I worried that they would develop weird overgrown thumbs or funny hump necks from looking down all the time. At night I went around pulling phones from under pillows so that they wouldn’t get head cancer.
So far so good. Their necks and thumbs are fine. Yes, their phones are extensions of their arms, but that works for me too.
There’s nothing more useful than a teenager with a smartphone when you need to get stuff done. They are brilliant at knowing where to go and how to get there, what to eat and when you need to gather your skirts and run for the last bus.
Whereas my fingers tend to jab at a the phone screen, muddling words, calling up the wrong apps and taking terrible photos in the wrong mode, theirs glide across the screen in a super efficient manner, and what they can’t find on their phones is hardly worth knowing. They can track family and friends on Instagram for me, winkle out shoes that have sold out in the shops, send money, book flights, find discount codes and line us all up in cinema seats, all with an ease I envy. My life is full of muddles that I don’t imagine will ever bother them because the solution is just a few taps away. There is very little that they can’t organise on their phones including sending CVs on LinkedIn and being interviewed on Skype. I should be able to do all these things too, but it just doesn’t come naturally to me. It does to them. They are fully at ease in the digital world and that’s surely not a bad thing.
Admittedly the sight of a friend’s baby, at no more than a year old, trying to enlarge the page of a book in front of him by stroking it as you would a smart phone screen made me worry about what lay in store for him, and for my friend. Will she ever be able to persuade him to read a book? Will he reach the age of 18 with a computer chip in his head that will supply all the information he will ever need?
I know parents who despair about their childrens’ screen addictions, who have rules around mealtime and bedtime and who try to police it by routine confiscations. They’re trying hard but it’s an exhausting goal they’ve set themselves. Children need a certain amount of freedom to live their lives and grow up in a world that will become theirs. If that means being allowed to play around on their devices more than a parent would like then I’m all for that.