The Elephant in the Room: Smartphones


I don’t know if Momo was a hoax or not. What I do know is that it scared parents about smartphones technology, which, for my money, is a good thing.

The more parents begin to question the efficacy of what they are exposing to their children, the more we will deliberately choose what we let our kids watch, play, and own.

Digital Minimalism

Computer Scientist Dr. Cal Newport of Georgetown University just published a book called Digital Minimalism. In an interview, he said that he could only write this book because he said he saw the tide turning against technology. He saw people beginning to accuse various forms of technology of false advertising. Maybe they don’t make our lives easier or happier after all.

Instead of proposing any kind of detox from the smartphone, Newport suggests that we get rid of all of our digital technologies. Then, like the Kon-mari method of tidying up, add back in only what we really want, what actually enhances our life.

Newport’s is a minimalist mentality, and the digital technologies he uses are only those that add value to his life and work and don’t harm him in the process. He uses his smartphone to listen to podcasts and music, and to make phone calls.

Silicon Valley Parents Don’t Give Their Kids Smartphones

It should alarm us that the people who created and sell smartphones don’t let their children play with them. There are numerous empirical studies that detail the harm that smartphones cause.

Here are eight:

  1. Smartphones harm eyesight.
  2. Smartphones weaken attention.
  3. Smartphones are associated with higher levels of anxiety.
  4. Smartphones are associated with memory loss.
  5. Smartphones make people anti-social.
  6. Smartphones kill conversations.
  7. Smartphones are addictive. They have adverse effects on the brain similar to heroin.
  8. Smartphones discourage “deep work.”

Smartphones give kids (and adults) the wrong impression about life: that it’s fast, efficient, easy. My University students wrongly believe that knowledge equals things you can Google. We who grew up the old-fashioned way know that knowledge is none of these things; it is slow, difficult, and requires experience.

Even so-called “educational” apps deceive more than they teach. The child primarily learns how to quickly scroll through information, leading to information overload. If you want to teach kids about a specific topic, there is no short-cut that will actually work. Educators know that “learning” virtually through screens is incomparably worse than learning in real life and real time through experience. So, not only are they not learning what the app is supposed to teach, but they are mistakenly learning that learning itself is easy, effortless, and requires no contact with the outside world.


When kids see us at the mercy of smartphones, letting them interrupt our conversations, they get the impression that it’s OK. Children work to grow an attention span, but they aren’t born with one.

Teachers and fellow parents often compliment me on my children’s attention spans, and it is largely due to a distraction-free environment. Like the Silicon Valley moguls, we don’t let our kids play with our phones, and we don’t play with them either.

Smartphones are tempting because they light up the pleasure centers of our brains. They have been compared to slot machines, and we weren’t built to carry slot machines in our pockets; we begin to crave constant stimulation. Our brains actually need lots of downtime, to play outside, even to be bored.

Kids don’t need constant entertainment, and they suffer in the long run when they have it. Kids’ tender ages represent a critical time in the life of a developing human. As far as science tells us, smartphones make us dumb.

Further Reading:

  • Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism (2019)
  • Manoush Zomorodi, Bored and Brilliant (2017)
  • Cal Newport, Deep Work (2016)
  • Evgeny Morozov, To Fix Everything, Click Here (2015)
  • Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation (2015)
  • Sherry Turkle, Alone Together (2011)
  • Nicholas Carr, The Shallows (2011)
  • Juliet Shorr, Born to Buy (2004)
  • Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985)
Previous articleBecoming a “Medical Mom” :: Choosing Life with Trisomy 18
Next articleThe Scoop: RGV Family Fun in April
Mariana loves sandwiches best, although going 95% vegan two years ago means having traded in ham and swiss for eggplant and roasted red pepper. Her boys, Santiago (5) and Sebastian (3), agree that sliced bread is the greatest thing since sliced bread. The boys are native Spanish speakers despite the fact that neither of their parents is, which has made raising them in Spanish a labor of love. Her commitment to raising bilingual children was made possible by being a first-generation Chilean-American born and raised in New York City, and by having spent two pre-kid years living abroad in Mexico City and Salamanca, Spain. Mariana moved to the RGV in 2010 and never wants to live anywhere else. While the kids are at school, Mariana is a full-time Assistant Professor of Philosophy at UTRGV. She has written for the New York Times, Womankind Magazine, and Yahoo Parenting.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here