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Smartphones can depress teens—but they don’t have to

A few smart parenting rules can make your teens’ relationships with their phones + peers much healthier.

Smartphones can depress teens—but they don’t have to

Do you remember your first smartphone? Perhaps it was a bedazzled Sidekick or even an early iPhone. Whatever it was, it was like a gift from the future—and it’s a milestone kids of today may not even remember. With phones serving as companions for younger and younger kids, there’s rightfully been concern about the impact screen-time has on brain development and attention span.


But, according to a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, parents should be worried about something else entirely: Constant digital contact is linked to a rise in loneliness among adolescents.

Jean Twenge is the author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us, published this week. According to Twenge, research indicates today’s kids aren’t as reckless as previous generations were. The bad news is that they are instead more isolated.

The effects of the move from real-life socialization to social media isn’t lost on the kids of today. As one of Twenge’s teenage interviewees put it, it’s as if they like their phones more than they like people. This tendency to socialize through phones has made today’s teens more psychologically vulnerable than Millennials were, Twenge said.

“The Millennials grew up with the web as well, but it wasn’t ever-present in their lives, at hand at all times, day and night,” said Twenge in an excerpt from her book adapted for The Atlantic. “The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health.”

More than during any other time in recent history, Twenge said the arrival of the smartphone ushered in “abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states.”

“It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades,” she said, noting “skyrocketing” rates of teenage depression and suicide since 2011. “Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.”

So, what can parents do to help their kids engage with peers offline?

Go low-tech

According to Twenge, we can start by keeping smartphones out of young hands for as long as possible. In an interview with NPR, Twenge suggested kids can still benefit from the safety aspects of cell phones without the smart part.

“If you feel they need a phone, say, for riding a bus, you can get them a flip phone. They still sell them,” she explained.

Discuss trade-offs with kids

Twenge recommended parents talk with kids about the trade-off technology use has, which will help them understand how time online can take away from other experiences they may have socially.

Parents can also encourage and facilitate real-life get-togethers—even those that aren’t naturally “Instagrammable.” Beforehand, it may also help to communicate with the parents of your child’s friends to mutually suggest they put their phones away while hanging out together. (That way there’s no, “But so-and-so’s mom...”)

Institute no-device time

Of course it’s not easy to convince a kid to engage in person when their peers are all on Snapchat and Instagram. In an interview with Metro, technology addiction specialist Dr. Richard Graham suggested parents designate periods of no-device time dedicated to reinstating kids’ interest in things outside their phones.

Or, if they are resistant to that, there are apps that will force them offline for designated amounts of time.

Finally, one of the most important things is leading by example—so parents can start by putting away their own smartphones, too. ?

My village lives far away—but my Target baby registry helped them support me from afar

Virtual support was the next best thing to in-person hugs

They say you shouldn't make too many major life transitions at once. But when I was becoming a mama for the first time nearly five years ago, my husband and I also moved to a new town where we didn't know a soul, bought our first house and changed jobs.

To put it mildly, we didn't heed that advice. Luckily, our family and friends still made it feel like such a magical time for us by supporting our every move (literal and otherwise) from afar. They showered us with love through a virtual baby shower (expectant parents nowadays can relate!) featuring the unwrapping of gifts they were able to ship straight to me from my Target registry.

Here's one piece of advice I did take: I registered at Target so I could take advantage of the retailer's benefits for registrants, which include a welcome kit valued over $100, a universal registry function and more. Fast-forward a few years and Target has made the registration perks even better for expectant parents: As of August 2020, they've added a Year of Exclusive Deals, which gives users who also sign up for Target Circle a full year of savings after baby is born on all those new mama essentials, from formula to diapers and beyond.

Honestly, even without the significant perks of a free welcome kit with more than $100 in coupons, additional 15% off coupons to complete the registry and a full year of free returns, registering at Target wasn't a hard sell for me: Even though the experience of shopping for baby items was new, shopping with Target felt like returning home to me… and the comfort of that was such a gift.

And of course, Target's registry plays a vital role right now, as expectant parents everywhere are being forced to cancel in-person baby showers and navigate early parenthood without the help of a hands-on village. A registry like this represents a safe way for communities to come through for new parents. If you're anything like me (or any of the other mamas here at Motherly), you certainly have emotional ties and fond memories associated with Target.

What to register for at Target was also an easy talking point as I began to connect with moms in my new community. I will always remember going on a registry-building spree with my next door neighbor, who had young children of her own. As we walked the aisles of Target back in 2015, she suggested items to add… and we laid the foundation for what has since become one of my most cherished friendships.

Even as I made connections in my new hometown, I was nervous that expecting my first baby wouldn't feel as special as if I were near family and friends. But my loved ones exceeded all expectations by adding the most thoughtful notes to gifts. They hosted a beautiful virtual baby shower and even encouraged me to keep the registry going after my baby made his debut and new needs arose.

In the years since, "community" has taken on a wonderfully complex new meaning for me… and, in these times of social distancing, for the rest of the world. I've come to cherish my newfound friends in our local community alongside those long-time friends who are scattered around the county and my virtual mama friends.

Now, as my friends' families grow, I'm so grateful that I can show them the same love and support I felt during my first pregnancy. I sing the praises of Target's baby registry—especially in light of the pandemic, since I know mamas can do everything from a distance thanks to Target's website and the added benefit of getting trusted reviews and helpful registry checklists.

And now that I'm on the gift-buying side of the equation, I've found new joy in picking thoughtful gifts for my friends. (Because goodness knows Target has something for everyone!)

For my friend who is a fellow runner, I teamed up with a few others to give the jogging stroller she had on her registry.

For my friend who is a bookworm, I helped her start her baby's library with a few books that are also well-loved in our home.

For other friends, I've bundled together complete "sets" with everything they need for bathing or feeding their children.

I know from my own experience that, yes, the registry purchases are so appreciated, but the thoughtfulness and the support they represent means even more. Because although my village may have been distant, the support they showed me was the next best thing to in-person hugs.

Start your own Target Baby Registry here to experience a Year of Benefits including a Year of Exclusive Deals through Target Circle to enjoy for a full year following your baby's arrival, a year of free returns, two 15% off completion coupons and a free welcome kit ($100 value).

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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