We Train for Driving We Should Train for Smartphones Too

"I can’t wait to get my driver’s license and then my own car" has been replaced by "I can’t wait to get my own phone."

Back in the day it was the dream of nearly every 15 and 16-year-old. A driver’s license meant you were somebody. The piece of plastic meant you had passed driver’s education classes, the written exam at the local department of motor vehicles, and the dreaded behind the wheel test. The card was so much more than an ID. The card provided opportunities for freedom and privacy.

Never again would you have to bum a ride. With you behind the wheel, the music on the radio was your decision alone. The mall, your friend’s pool, your girlfriend’s house, hanging out in the park and more were all a turn of the key away. Your car was your world. The absolute worst thing your parents could take away from you was to ground you from your car. Stuck at home. No friends. No liberty. No privacy.

This is 2018 and getting a driver’s license is still a big deal, but I suspect if you were to ask a teen to make a choice between losing driving privileges and losing his cell phone, he’d sooner walk uphill both ways than lose the privacy and freedom that comes with having his own phone. With his phone he has the privacy and liberty previous generations had with their cars. On his phone he can go to the mall, hang out with friends, text his girlfriend, and spend hours doing what he wants with whomever he wants. And because he’s good with tech, no one has to know any of the details. All the privacy and all the liberty with minimal hassles.

It used to be parents and older teens battled over the car. They still may, but any parent who’s crossed swords with her teen over the use of a cell phone will tell you about a battle described as Armageddon.

Researcher Eric Geiger writes, “While there is not yet an agreed upon official name for the generation after the millenials, and dates vary a bit among researchers, iGeneration is the name Jean Twenge assigns to those born in 1995 through 14-17 years post-1995 (the year the Internet was born to the world). So in 2018, those in iGeneration are 6 to 23 years old.” I’m suggesting this is the generation for whom their cellphone is the most important possession. And that’s a problem.

Before children secure their driver’s licenses, we require them to sit in a classroom weeks on end, practice a predetermined number of hours in a moving vehicle, wait for many months after getting a learner’s permit before driving solo, and then pass both a written and driving test before we give them the privilege to drive a car. Once a kid gets his license, he’s met with all kinds of restrictions. The law limits the number of people he can transport as a new driver, and the law limits the time of day he can drive. Parents may put additional restrictions on a young driver. All these moves make sense. It is a huge responsibility to drive a car.

And it’s a huge responsibility to give a child a smart phone. But what training do children receive before their hands grasp their first phone? What preventions do the mature put in place to protect the immature from dangers they cannot imagine? How do those who supply the phone and the data usage insure that they are not bringing a handheld idol into their children’s bedrooms, a god their children will defend with their last breath?

Look, the smartphone isn’t going away. It’s become a part of who we are as human beings. Like everything else that is not the Trinity, a smartphone is a great servant but a brutal master.

I’ll pick it up here next week and offer some suggestions for training and managing smartphone use in our families.

As always I welcome your feedback and any ideas you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.