I'd like to begin this blog by offering my sincere prayers to the Iowa family who is grieving the horrific loss of their 13 year old son. The guilt, despair, and pain they must be going through is unimaginable. As a mother of two children, I would feel as if my heart was ripped out of my lifeless body. No one should ever have to bury a child of any age.
I'm going to refer to an earlier blog of mine on November 10 titled Gia's Op-Ed. I responded to an article regarding using technology as a reward/punishment system. In the article, the author strongly suggests we don't use technology as a bargaining tool. While I agreed with some of it, I strongly disagreed with much of it. The reason I disagreed with much of it, is based on what I have set up in my own household. A ZERO technology policy. While I say that, let me share that last night my daughter received a FaceTime phone call from a friend on my phone and I allowed them to talk to each other. She was in the same room with me and they were conversing. Some might call me a hack or a fraud because they might not see that as ZERO technology, but the bottom line is my children have no ipads, no itouch, no smartphone, no gaming. Can I bend with a face to face phone conversation? Yes. Remember, I'm all about communication. The ability to be verbally communicative.
What does this have to do with the tragic loss of a young child in the heartland? Well, I've often referred to smartphones as weapons. When young people, who have underdeveloped brains, have access to something as powerful as a smartphone, the risks they might encounter are endless. We are seeing teen suicide at alarming rates, lives being destroyed by social media, the inability to escape cyberbullying, anxiety and focus issues and a general inability to function with or without their device. Yes....they aren't functioning well WITH a device and God forbid you take it away, their entire world comes crashing down. When a tool has that much power over an individual that they can't imagine life without their phone.....that's a real problem folks. As a 43 year old woman, I might have difficulty if I don' t have my phone. Checking business emails while sitting in the car at school pick up, being accessible if school calls to let me know I have a sick kiddo, checking my bank account before going to bed and not dragging out my laptop, etc. It has it's conveniences. However, I can function without it. My entire social world is not tied into that little 5 1/2 by 3 inch mini computer. I don't feel devastation if it's not on me at all times.
I don't think we can say the cell phone is what caused the child to run away from home. While the media is sharing that piece of information with us, the only person who knows truly why they ran away is the young boy and sadly, the parents won't get the answer. They only know, they took the phone away, he was angry and the next thing they knew, they woke up to a son absent from his bedroom. Perhaps, they could have taken anything away from him.....his bike, bowling, an upcoming event and it would have elicited the same response. We don't know and far be it for me to make a bogus conclusion that the cell phone was the true cause. But, I will be bold enough to say this: We know through science and data that there is such a thing as technology addiction, we know that children are being hurt daily through social media, we know that children are riddled with anxiety because of the pressure they feel to keep up with their social media, we know that the FOMO component is rampant with our children having 24/7 access to what everyone is doing and whether they were included or not, we know they are googling things you wouldn't let your mother see let alone your 10 year old, we know that if you take away a phone from your teenager your life will become a living hell and your kid is going to freak out, and yet.... we just keep hoping it will all be ok. We keep telling ourselves that the screen time limits, the apps to block content, the fact that their friend has it too, that all of these things we put in place are going to make it ok. We close our eyes, cross our fingers, hope for the best, chalk it up to "it's just the way the world is today" and we continue to play Russian Roulette with our most precious and valuable items. What if we never gave it to them in the first place? Sadly, I bet those devastated parents have already had that thought.