I recently heard a statistic that people spend an average of 86% of their free time on their phones. I think about this when I watch people walk straight into one another on the sidewalk, eyes glued to their screens. It’s no secret that as a culture we use our phones a lot, but 86%?
I think smartphones are great inventions. They have transformed the way we communicate, the way we work, and the way we learn. Yet for being social connectors, they’ve taken quite a toll on our social skills. Research reveals that extended exposure to screens and technology negatively affects kids’ social and mental development. Without a doubt, children raised in today’s screen-driven culture feel the impact of this the most. Between their access to technology and the constant presence of smartphone-zombies, I’m often impressed when a kid can carry out a normal conversation.
I didn’t grow up with smartphones and tablets, but I still feel the dependency on constant connection. So when I see kids who can’t read yet wielding the newest iPhone, I worry. In a world where 38% of children under the age of 2 have used a smartphone or tablet (according to a 2013 study), how will we ever unplug?
Screens aren’t going away any time soon. Inevitably, they’ll grow even more ingrained in our everyday routine. But no matter how far technology comes, it can never replace the value of face-to-face interaction. A text message can’t compete with the sound of someone’s voice; a video game’s got nothing on actual play – real, good-old-fashioned play. Left to their own (non-electronic) devices, kids can entertain themselves for hours with nothing but a backyard. But only if they’re given a chance.
At the Foundation, we believe every child deserves this opportunity. That’s what our programs, like Safes Places to Play and Soccer for Success are all about. We strive to provide kids with the means to get up, get out, move, and play. Technology is not the enemy of this mission. In fact, we are constantly looking for opportunities to utilize technology as a means to enhance our programs and to spread the word about the importance of active play. It’s naïve to believe that screens won’t be a part of our free-time routine, but they shouldn’t dictate it, either. Technology should advance and enable play time, not replace it. It’s all in how you use it. It’s the difference between using your smartphone to rally a team for a game of pick-up, and playing the latest video game.
So, let’s lead by example. Power up your free time by powering down your devices. Talk. Go outside. Play. Heads up – there’s a whole world out there, and it doesn’t run on data.