Teens Ditching the Phone?

a black and white photo from the 1980's- three pre-teens gather around an old computer monitor to play Pacman. Teens Ditch the Phone?
Teens Ditch the Phone? (Getty Image)

Dear Ms. Smartphone: My college counselor casually mentioned that my friends and I should try to follow the lead of some NYC students. They stopped using social media or switched to flip phones.  He read an article about these teens in the newspaper and thought we should try it out. I think it’s a good idea, but my friends are a little resistant about ditching the phone. We are all juniors in a big public high school. Aparna

Dear Arpana: This idea seems a little suspicious coming from a college counselor….is this the raw material for the unique college essay?  Here is the New York Times article that inspired him (sadly under paywall?) and there are some good things there if you decide to make it your own experience. The teens’ motto, by the way,  is “Don’t Be a Phony” although I like “Teens Ditching the Phone” too.

But before you get started, realize this concept is not so radical. Adults recognize the need for digital detoxes or observe a Digital Sabbath once a week. Others send their children to summer camps or outdoor adventures where its de rigeur to put phones down. Other people lock them up in Yondr bags.  It’s not such a novel idea. However, the Brookline, NY kids got acclaim when they called themselves “Luddites”- an historical reference to workers who resisted (over two centuries) automation that put them out of work. Whether this is intended to spark college essays or not- I would come up with a trendier name that emphasizes the good, less of worker versus machine.

Also, before you begin I would personally think about this analytically. Perhaps you and your friends can measure changes that take place, before and after, A and B tests. You might record the amount of sleep you get…and note the quality of that sleep as well. You could count the number of books you check out of the library or newspaper pages you read. It would also be interesting if any of you return to old hobbies or spend more time doing them- say playing a team sport or practicing a musical instrument.  Then you and your friends will have some good discussions about the data. 

Other Awareness:

If you give up your phones for an extended period of time here are two more considerations. First, make sure that you have access to a desktop computer or laptop if your high school teachers use a website for last-minute posts. Second, think about how you will maintain your friendship with friends who continue to use social media and post pictures daily. No wise tips here, but it’s worth trying to imagine how to bridge that divide.

By the way, you may find that your parents will be most at odds if you ditch the phone. They may not realize how dependent they are in terms of staying in touch with you, and knowing your whereabouts. This might be your moment to lead them into more family time say talking over the dinner table and doing things as a family. In February there is a religious holiday called Lent in which people give up things- perhaps this is their own opportunity.

What could go wrong?!

What you seek to do is an interesting experiment. Tiktok, Facebook and countless other social media have changed the way that teens today are brought up and socialized.  We update our friends, family, and even fans with online posts about our daily life. At first everyone tries to go online and upload as many photos and life updates as possible. What could possibly go wrong?! There have been lots of other counter-culture movements that have led to better times!