Dr. Amy Stark

Child Psychologist, Author & Speaker

Specializing in:
Teaching Families How to Live Divorced
and Self-Esteem for Girls and Boys

Food For Thought

Food For Thought


Kids are addicted to their cell phones. It has gotten much worse after the pandemic, when the only way kids could relate was through their electronic devices. Since then, I see isolation and kids not actually spending time with other kids socializing. Their idea of socializing is gaming and being on headphones, often not even really knowing just who they are gaming with.

I applaud NYU social psychologist Jonathan Haidt for researching and writing his new book The Anxious Generation and standing up and recognizing the harm mobile phone use is causing to children. Social media has unachievable standards that no one can live up to. For girls, it is costly to their self-esteem. Add to that, they can actually look to YouTube or other sites to learn how to do self-harm behaviors in undetectable ways. How frightening is this?

When I encourage parents to set limits on kids’ cell phones – actually have dinner, go outside, put the phone on the chargers in the parent’s room – you would think I had taken oxygen out of the air. Parents are also addicted, and cell phone scrolling has often replaced a time when parents should be teaching values and coping skills.

Kids have lost social connections in their neighborhood and, I agree with Haidt, they do not play enough. I notice they often do not even know how to play with others. Some kids' idea of play is watching another kid play on YouTube, instead of actually playing, having conflicts with friends and learning to work them out. Gone are the days when kids got together in the neighborhood and rode bikes or played a group game.

Online gaming is also at an epidemic level. Gaming is not socializing. When kids are replacing actual contact for gaming, we are all headed in the wrong direction. How can you learn how to have meaningful connections with others if you are never with them in person? There are many benefits to group activities. Kids thrive by playing sports.  It gets them outside and they learn to work with others on a team.

I think all parents need to take a look at how many hours their kids spend on the phone daily. Then they should start with themselves and show they can also put their phone down and engage in real interactions with the family. Parents can demonstrate the actual connections they have with others. If they are not socially engaged with their kids’ friends and families, the children have no example to follow.

We must start somewhere. Little steps help.

·        No cell phone use in the car

·        No cell phone use at dinner

·        No cell phone in the bedroom next to the bed

·        Put away phones after one hour of use

·        Discuss the social media they are seeing and whether it’s realistic

·        Help children cope by putting restrictions on the phone a little bit at a time

Schools need to set limits, too. They can collect the phones at the beginning of the day and return them at the end of the day. If we don't start somewhere, more damage will happen.

* Disclaimer:
Dr. Stark's Web site is not intended to take the place of a court-ordered advice or the advice of another professional. Although you may use the input found here to your best advantage, we recommend that you do so in conjunction with the work that you are doing with your individual therapist. Remember: this Web site is not therapy; it's knowledge and support.

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