I believe the two phenomena are actually related. Here’s why…
Thinking way back to when I was a teenager, we had two means of peer interaction: voice calling via a land-line, or meeting face-to-face. One required a phone, and the other a driver’s license.
In early adolescence the rotary dial wall-mounted phone was the gateway to social communication. If lucky, your parents had an extra-long receiver cord allowing for “private” conversations that usually involved maximizing the elasticity of the cord into a closet or bathroom. Or, if you were really lucky (and most likely female), you had a phone in your room.
As adolescence progressed into the mid-teens, the desire for more private in-person communication and dating increased, thus leading to a paradoxical crisis of mobility. No car – no job. No job – no money. No money – no car. No car and no money – no dates. No dates…uh, well see Freud.
I counted down the days to my sixteenth birthday. I woke early and was knocking on the door of the DMV at 8:00 AM. We did not have restrictions on riders as is now accustomed in most states so within 14 minutes of passing the exam my car was loaded with friends on our way to McDonald’s, a movie and freedom.
Today’s adolescents follow the same social needs progression as previous generations; however, their vehicle of achieving “contact” is no longer the car, but electronics. Friends are constantly (and covertly) in touch through social media and texting, and are “face-to-face” via Skype, FaceTime or Xbox Live. They can literally “see” multiple friends 24/7 from almost anywhere on Earth and never miss a single update on hook-ups or break-ups thanks to Instagram, Facebook, Kik, and the latest app de jour. Trips to the movies have been replaced with home theatres, Hulu, Netflix, and other video-steaming services. Roaming around the mall with friends has been replaced by Amazon, and dating has somewhat been replaced by Snapchat (again, see Freud).
Consequently, the connection between delayed driver’s licensure and addiction to smartphones is obvious. Whereas the need for adolescent social interaction once required a car; the information superhighway is now the single avenue to meeting adolescent needs without ever leaving their house.
So I pose this question…is their “addiction” to their phones really that much different than my generation’s emotional attachment to cars? Did our parents say we were “addicted” to our cars when we named them or “blinged them out” with useless accessories? Or, were we simply using the most efficient means of the time to meet our need for social interaction?
We’ll discuss this further in my next post which will address if prohibition of phone privileges is a proportional response to common adolescent missteps and behaviors.
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