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Many of the high schools I teach at are adopting a 'no mobile phone' policy for 2020. I applaud it. In 2019 five (5) women where killed in Australian public places. Two (2) of them were ON THE PHONE while being murdered. Teaching your child to 'pretend like they are on the phone' when being followed could be putting them in more danger, because it doesn't take a smart psychopath to see that they are distracted. Until we master bi-location and teleportation there is nothing a parent can do but listen to what happens to our children if they are on the phone.
We must also remember that the mobile phone is a piece of technology that publicly broadcasts:
1. the comments of trolls that are most likely to cause our teens to consider suicide and self harm
2. access to free pornography that exposes our children to violent sexual disfunction
3. shows the status, movement, associations and availability of our children to online sexual predators
The social dysfunctions gaming and device dependance cause are also obvious and well documented. Any parent who gets tough on devices will know there is a 'decompression' time with kids and teens while they get used to the idea.
I'm going to be controversial here, but honest. The phone will not protect your child. In fact, it will endanger them with the potential distraction/ addiction/ affliction cycle that is the very design of social media and online content.
School teachers don't have the time, nor are they allowed, to go public on this major health epidemic. But every time you hand a mobile phone to your child, you may be enabling their personal safety demise.
I can almost guarantee that you gave your child a device on the benevolent premise that it was for their safety so that they could call you and keep in contact with you when they need you the most. So they could call you if they are in trouble, being abducted, being threatened - need help. But what if I told you that the phone is the reason that they would be targeted in the first place? And when they are targeted the phone will retard any natural survival instincts they may have, and long after an incident, will trigger or compound mental health issues.
Statistically that phone won't be used to save them, but will enable their demise. The phone makes your child a really good victim.
I have been teaching self defence and personal safety to high school students for 14 years. What I see in classrooms would make most parent's hair fall out. Our kids are in trouble - mentally, emotionally, socially, intellectually, and physically - and we are enabling it when we give our children unfettered access to their devices without rules or regulation.
I have seen a degeneration in our teens physical coordination - in their inability to know left from right and in their ability to hear a direction and react immediately. A large number of teens that I coach are no longer able to count, talk, hear and move at the same time. Why is this a problem? These are the very simple human tools required to be taught, to be coached.... To survive.
I have witnessed a decade long degeneration in our teens ability to regulate their emotions as I witness classroom outbursts similar to my 4 year old child's tantrums. I see growing numbers of students being unable regulate their emotions and I see teachers struggling to teach because the majority of their days are spent in behaviour management. In one 50 minute class I will use behaviour management tools for at least 10 minutes a class. And so now I see smart and motivated students being left behind as they drift off into their 'same day, different circus' learning reality.
I have witnessed social degeneration in classrooms and a lack of basic empathy toward other humans. Ok, ok. Socrates himself was famous for bemoaning the self-centred ignorance, arrogance and general lazy nature of Ancient Greek teens. This is nothing new to older generations as they outgrow the frivolous nature of youth. Youth is misspent on the young. But what is new is that the brains of our teens appear to have been deprogramed and then reprogrammed - and it is not a program of resilience. It appears to me that whole swaths of our mind, body, spirit complex died when we become dependant on iOS technology.
My experience as a sexual assault investigator tells me that your child will replicate whatever 'comfort behaviour' they use daily to sooth themselves in a stressful situation. For example, a teen girl will often giggle during a sexual assault, the same as she will giggle, whisper and eye-roll with her friends when reprimanded for disruptive behaviour. I have had court cases tossed where sexual assault victims state they giggled during the assault because they felt uncomfortable.. Important teaching moment here: a giggle does not imply consent. No. Absolutely not. No consent given. But - I wasn't given the opportunity to teach our learn-ed predominately male judiciary that this is conditional gender behaviour. Conditioning that began the moment a kindergarten teacher claps 'inside voices, outside voices' or 'girls, close your legs,' and 'ladies, don't yell.' The sort of conditioning where females were not welcomed into live coverage full contact sports without wearing lingerie or being tossed into a tub of jelly - until very recently. The same conditioning where you can see boys schools during lunch time tackling and playing ball sports, and drive 100 metres down the road to a girls school and see students sitting and talking.
I can't undo a system of inequality that has created this conditioning (yet) but I can teach parents and their children to start watching how they unconsciously react when they are under stress. And when your teen is under stress it is most likely they will reach for a phone.
The conditioning of habit at the cost of survival is endemic across all our generations. Our iOS generation will reach for the phone the same way that mums have been shown in recent disaster victim studies to clean their kitchen, put on a load of washing or walk around in circles muttering and giggling (or phoning their mum) when being told to evacuate immediately. For this study, click here. It made me realise it is my natural reaction when under stress to clean and stack. My kitchen benches are all going to clean and sanitised before the arrival of a cyclone at the expense of my children's survival. This is embarrassing, but true. Self reflection is always going to a vital tool in my personal safety tool belt.
Recently I was telling a group of grade 11 students the story of a young Russian woman who was fishing with her dad when they were both attacked by a brown bear. The young woman, a psychology student, climbed up a tree and used her phone to call for mother while her father was being attacked. The bear - a new mother - may have instinctively assessed the young woman as easy prey and went away to rally her starving cubs. She returned with her brood to find the injured girl in-situ, and on her phone. So the whole nightmarish feast continued all the while a frantic and helpless Russian mum remained on the other end of the phone, listening to her daughters agonising demise. Listening, and able to help.
This is not just a climate change warning about humans encroaching on the animals kingdoms natural habitat and an apex predator trying to feed her starving babies. It is a story of a deterioration in human survival instincts. It is a complete inability to assess risk, react and act - using our body and mind simultaneously to remove ourselves from danger.
For every second we are on that phone, searching for that phone, or wishing we had that phone, we are food for bears. Figuratively and literally.
I had just finished telling this story to a year 10 class when I saw one of the students playing with her phone. Perhaps this story made her uncomfortable, so #ironically she turned to her comfort source: her phone. I gave her a warning. I told her to put the phone away. She sat on it and said "you can't make me." I could make her, but I was more concerned about teaching the session to the majority of students who were engaged and willing to participate.
Later in the session I was teaching sexual assault strategies and discussed ABS statistics indicating that 1 in 3 Australian girls under the age of 16 had already been the victim of sexual assault. This statistic suggests that at a hand full of females in the classroom at the time may have already experienced assaults. This may have made my 'phone sitting student' uncomfortable. Or not? So she got her phone out again and started to show her boyfriend something that was incredibly interesting and started chatting loudly to him. Her boyfriend seemed uncomfortable with her behaviour and the rest of the class restlessly shuffled trying to ignore her one-sided conversation.
I related to my phone gazing student that while she may not be concerned about her personal safety statistically the person beside her may already a victim (1 in 6 boys experience sexual abuse before the age of 16), or will be in the future, so it would be selfish to deny them the right to learn strategies to keep them safe. I told her to put her phone away or to leave the classroom. So with a great gusto, and the most physical activity I had seen from her all day, she threw her arms in the air and left with a cloud of obscenities and statements blaming everyone else for her predicament. "I wasn't even on the phhhoooonnnnnneee!!! This is soooooo unfair." She left the room with a phone held fist pump and the slam of a glass sliding door. The teachers looked on as if this was all completely normal. Just another day at the circus.
Her behaviour was similar to a drug addict being denied a hit. Violent. Irrational. Erratic. Inconsolable.
This is what I see in classrooms where there is a loss of control in device usage.
But let's step this story a little further. This student, when feeling triggered, may then use her phone as she is hiding in the school toilet to attack her 'frenemies' on social media. To attack the school. To attack teachers. To attack me. These attacks will lack emotional intelligence, the ability to discern, and most certainly lack empathy. Her brain will be stuck in lizard brain - the brain that attacks, plays dead, and then attacks again. The same brain that trolls and bullies and lashes out. The same brain that blames other people for how they feel. But let's think about the people that may be at the end of the attack: they too may have a dependance on their phone, and a lack of emotional resilience. So when they read/ hear/ are confronted by the outburst of a lizard brain this may trigger a defensive reaction within them. Lizard V Lizard. And then they may start to lash out via social media - or - spiral into depression. And we don't need the statistics on teen suicide to see where this is going. The phone has caused a cycle of mental illness, dependance, and aggression, and has enabled countless premature deaths. Are we brave enough to put a number to a death toll?
The very nature of social media and gaming is to create a cycle of emotional and mental addiction to devices to encourage its ongoing use and collection of our data - and our money. Our children are the first to be raised with this technology during their tender formative years and it is yet to be seen what the full impact will be on their ability to operate independently in the world. We already have statistics from our trade industry that only 20 -30% of apprentices are currently completing their qualifications. We know that ear buds are damaging our hearing and generating chronic pain. We also know that children have reading and writing resistance due to poor hand muscle tone and limited ability to concentrate without the need for text to speech, synth music, and entertaining videos edited beyond form or function.
Without boring you too much let's think about a couple of times the phone puts your child at risk:
So, this is really a no brainer. We don't need governments or schools to do something about this. It is as simple as reassessing the reasons that you believe that your child needs a phone in order to be safe.
What our kids really need right now is you.
Personal Protections Expert and Keynote Speaker.