Vail Daily column: Smart phone use, not smartphone use | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Smart phone use, not smartphone use

Carol Johnson
Valley Voices

Carol Johnson

Editor's note: Find a cited version of this column at http://www.vaildaily.com.

Whether or not Tim Farnum's ballot proposal Initiative 29 gets the signatures necessary to be on the fall 2018 ballot, he brings up an important conversation for everyone to have about the topic of kids and smartphone use. Smartphone addiction is a real thing, and overuse by our children is detrimental to their brain development.

Obsessive smartphone use can lead to more than a kid turning into a "knucklehead," as a Vail Daily editorial recently suggested. In extreme cases, and one that was featured in the Indieflix documentary "Screenagers," it can lead to youth being sent to gaming- and technology-addiction treatment centers. Yes, this is a real thing.

While I don't agree with all points made in our local Editorial Board opinion piece, I do agree with their premise that banning the sale of smartphones to kids 13 and younger is not a viable solution to fixing today's problems around this issue. I felt compelled to respond, though, because their piece offers no solutions to the problem at hand.

There are many strategies parents can utilize, starting today, to boost healthy smartphone habits:

• First and foremost, model positive smartphone behavior. That means not having your phone in your hands at all times. Don't text and drive. Don't send hurtful texts. Don't ignore people in the same room with you because you are engrossed with your smartphone. Rather, model healthy breaks from your phone, point out this behavior, and talk about it with your kids as a teachable moment. They really will emulate your smartphone conduct; it's a known fact that kids copy parents' behavior.

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Create a Family Contract for healthy smartphone use. This concept, featured in "Screenagers," puts everyone on the same page in your home with regard to smartphone use. You can tweak sample templates easily found on the internet, so it works for your family.

"Screenagers" believes the contract should be created together (with children's input), rather than dictated solely by the parent. This is crucial for buy-in. As your kids get older, modifications can be added as kids show they can be responsible. Dangle the carrot: "You can have Snapchat when you turn 14 if you abide by the current contract." Of course, you will have to add new elements to the contract to reflect the addition of social media or gaming sites.

• Consider a simple flip phone for kids who are younger (ages 8 to 12). After they have demonstrated they can follow your Family Contract, upgrade to a smartphone. I suggest one year to prove they won't lose it, break it, call or text people in the middle of the night, take inappropriate photos, etc.

• Have conversations about what it means to be a good digital citizen. "Screenagers" suggests having Tech Talk Tuesday conversations around the dinner table. This is a great way to talk about the meaning of what it takes to practice a healthy technology routine versus unhealthy and harmful habits. The recent story about the incoming freshmen whose spots were taken away from them at Harvard University is a teachable moment of how one's digital footprint can be life changing. This story is a perfect Tech Talk Tuesday conversation.

I encourage you to have a conversation in your home about this topic. As Farnum says, "The parents all have to come together and do this." Good luck!

Carol Johnson is the parent program coordinator for the Eagle River Youth Coalition.