I know parents who won’t drive around the block without strapping their child into the car seat. Yet statistically, most kids will never be in a dangerous car accident. We do it to protect them from a potentially life threatening situation. We are told it is the right thing to do. It is a law. Seeing a child not in a car seat is enough to send another mother into an emotional frenzy, “How can do they do that? Let’s call the police!”
From one generation to the next, parents changed from not using car seats to being legally required to have a car seat. A new baby isn’t allowed to leave the hospital without proof of a properly installed infant car seat.
Somehow American lawmakers decided that all children must be strapped in a car seat for their own good and parents went for it. This happened quickly, sometime since I was a child who regularly rode in the backseat of my dad’s sedan, with lanky legs and arms sprawled from one door to the other while my little brother curled up on the floor. We took long road trips as a family and as kids, all we wanted was to be comfortable while we napped to the soothing whirrrr of the road noise and gentle rocking of highway driving.
Not sure it ever occurred to my parents that they were putting our lives in danger. They didn’t wear seat belts. We drove happily along the highways and byways of America for two decades without a seat belt, without an accident and without a fatality.
So what does this have to do with smart phones?
The way I see it, we have a generation of parents (not unlike my own) who are happily driving down the highways and byways of America while they and their children play on smart phones. These children may be in the same car or somewhere totally different. The point is that the youngsters are on the devices, blatantly unprotected from potentially life threatening situations.
And for the sake of this blog, I am not talking about texting and driving, something that is a terribly dangerous activity. We see the results of this. Car crashes that take the lives of innocent people. There are new education campaigns out there now urging drivers of all ages to put the phones down and drive safely.
What isn’t as publicly visible yet? The mental illness, suicides and destroyed lives that happen as a result of children being exposed to the Internet via a smart phone at too young an age. We don’t have the public education campaigns yet. We don’t have the movements to restrict young people from unsupervised access to the World Wide Web.
We have a long way to go.
The parents of a 14 year-old girl are still reeling from her death in December 2014. This story from AL.com about her unfortunate death is extremely eye opening for any parent. As a publisher of a family magazine, I am well aware that story telling is an effective way to educate others, more than any government education campaign can do on its own. More parents like Jennifer Sellers of Pell City, Alabama need to share their stories. Even more parents need to hear their messages and heed their warnings.
At a recent seminar by Dr. Leonard Sax sponsored by the Pinellas Education Foundation, Dr. Sax said that giving a smart phone to a pre-teen or teen is like letting them driving a fast sports car without any driver’s training. No parent would allow a child behind the wheel before they were mature and skilled enough to handle the task, yet every day parents give their child a tool that exposes them to technology they are not yet mature or skilled enough to handle on their own.
We are aware of the cyber bullying. We are somewhat aware of the mental illness that has arisen from exposure to media experiences that can damage emotional development during a fragile period of life. We are somewhat aware of the human trafficking and suicides that have ruined lives. But are we aware enough to say “No” to the peer pressure and conveniences that lure well-meaning parents into providing smart phones for their under 18 kids?
Are we the “no seat belt and car seat” parents of the current generation? Are we driving along unaware of the dangers of our actions? Do we believe that if we can navigate life with a smart phone then our children can as well? History may prove that our inexperience and naivete regarding smart phones and unsupervised usage of the Internet will do more harm than good when it comes to child rearing. Technology continues to advance and outsmart parents, and it’s a real shame that evil doers use this to target the innocent. Only the strictest of rules enforced by parents will protect your children.
I’m going to look into how the car seat law became a reality so quickly because we need to replicate this now. I truly believe that we need a quick intervention to mandate safety barriers for our children when it comes to the Internet, in particular with smart phones, apps and security. Like I said earlier, “We have a long way to go.,” so in the meantime, approach the Internet with extreme caution, especially in regards to your children and teens. Not all security measures are foolproof. And from what Dr. Sax said, the iPhone was designed to NOT allow censoring on purpose, so it is the least safe device for a young person. He urged parents to 1) know what their children are doing online at all times, 2) do not give a child or a young teen a smart phone 3) do not allow any Internet access in a child’s bedroom and 4) keep all cell phones charging in the parent’s bedroom during the night. He added, “Children need their sleep. Ten years ago parents wouldn’t allow phone calls in the middle of the night so why do they allow texting and emailing during the middle of the night?”
That’s a pretty good question.
Written by Pamela Settle, owner of Light Shine Media Group and publisher of GoodLiving Magazine. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced without permission.
GoodLiving Magazine is printed six times a year for families in Pinellas County, Florida, home to municipalities including Clearwater, Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Largo and St. Petersburg. The densest county in Florida, population is near 1 Million people. Past issues are available for viewing digitally on the website.
As an advocate for children and families, Pamela Settle serves as the local committee chairperson for The Children’s Movement of Florida, a non-partisan advocacy organization that works on behalf of the well being of children throughout the State of Florida.