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Maybe like you, I have been following a lot of the conversations centered around the Parkland school shooting. It’s hard to have rational debate over emotionally charged issues especially when it comes to the lives lost in Parkland. I am broken-hearted over things like this and this reality is especially hitting close to home for me because we regularly work with schools and churches and our need to protect lives.

I think this is a difficult issue, but we do have a responsibility to ensure the safety of our children -not just physical safety but the emotional and mental safety as well.

Many of today’s teens feel inherently that something is wrong, and are acting as they know how, hoping to have their voice heard. As we prepare to have continued conversations centered on gun control, there is one topic I have yet to see be brought up – social media and smartphone use in teens and children, and the impact on mental health.

I believe this issue is critical to the conversation of safety.

More and more studies are coming out about their (smartphones and social media apps) negative mental health impact on teens and children. This article, “Porn Is Not the Worst Thing on Musical.ly,sheds light on the absolute underbelly and darkness of access to content that has very little restrictions. From the article:

“I saw this comment beneath a #suicide video: “u r beautiful plz dont kill urself im only 10 but i will b ur friend.” Kids should be watching witty cartoons, riding bikes, making slime, doing art, playing Minecraft, learning chess and boring us with bad magic tricks. They shouldn’t be stopping other kids from killing themselves.”

Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University has written multiple articles and has shared frightening statistics connecting “the hopeless generation” (post-millennials) as some have coined to smartphone usage:

  • Depression rose 33% in teenagers from 2012-2015
  • Teen suicide attempts increased 23%
  • 1 teen died every 6 hours by suicide 2016
  • On average each day: 3,470 teens attempt suicide

Suicide, depression, cyberbullying, loneliness, and anxiety are showing direct links to smartphone and social media usage. Past executives from Facebook and Google are coming out against their former companies making statements like, “It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other. It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains…

I think we are beginning to see the negative impact.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of positive things happening with social media and smartphones. I am not ripping technology and saying just ban all the smartphones. But I do think it’s important to evaluate all factors that are leading to these issues. Should we have stronger restrictions for a smartphone in our own homes? We are having that debate over guns – why not phones that seem just as dangerous in the hands of our children.

Who is responsible? Government? Parents? Youth themselves? Schools? Communities? Businesses making profits from guns/smartphones/apps?

YES. We are all responsible. Inasmuch as we own a piece of the pie, it is our responsibility to engage in the solution. If we hold stake in the problem, then we also hold stake in the solution.

As for our piece of the pie, we wrestle with the same concerns as we try to create an atmosphere here at camp that goes way beyond just the physical safety of our campers. As we update emergency preparedness plans, enhance the safety and beauty of our buildings, we cannot deny the negative impact social media has on the teens we serve. Our hope is that camp can be a place to detox a little from their phones and “snapstreaks” and begin their own streaks of new friendships, exciting adventures of self-discovery and faith in Christ. That is the true power of camp – to help us all unplug from our devices, and plug into the true source of our acceptance and affection. It’s amazing what some time on the mountain can do for the soul.

In addressing an issue, there are those who are agenda-driven and then there are those who are results-driven. I would hope as a country we could come together and be results-driven and work for the heart of our children, and their future.