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Larry Schweikart: Phones, Devices and Addiction – Managing, not Eliminating

Guest Piece by Larry Schweikart

I knew there was a problem when on Christmas Eve a family sat down next to us in church and before the choir even started singing, the man in the group pulled out his cell phone and began watching golf.

Yep. In church, on Christmas Eve.

Note to self: if you need to pull out your phone in church to do anything but read a Bible verse, you have a phone problem. If you spend more than two hours a day texting (this is the average texting time daily for teens!), you have a phone problem. If you miss meals and bathing because you are gaming on the internet, you are an addict. And if you or your kids are seeing psychologists for “anxiety” due to social media, you all have a phone and device problem.

The following is taken from my new book, All Thumbs: How Our Obsession with Phones and Devices is Damaging Our Children and Restructuring Our Lives, available only as a gift when you sign up for an annual VIP subscription at www.wildworldofhistory.com. While the field is still relatively new—remember, the “smart phone” only came out in 2007, the iPad in 2010—the vast, vast majority of research is suggesting that we as a society have phone and device problems. Simply put, the more you’re on the devices, the more likely you are to have anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts; for girls, the behaviors also include self-harm and cutting. What I propose is certainly not prohibition, which would be impossible in today’s society in the first place, but as one would with medicine, alcohol or fast cars, management and control.

The cell phone spread to one-quarter of the U.S. population faster than any product in history except for its companion, the internet (13 years vs. 7 years). Merely finding out how much people are on phones is a challenge, because some studies double count, such as when a child is watching an iPad while simultaneously playing a video game on a hand-held device or texting. According to Pew, 92% of teens go online daily and half go online multiple times a day. Women have more extensive use of cell phones than men do, especially when it comes to text messaging; men are more likely to use a phone while driving. (More on that in a moment).

Here comes the scary stuff. Some 40% of teens hide their online behavior from their parents, including more than half of those 14-16 years old. Some kids—14%—hide their passwords from their parents and 10% regularly delete their browsing history. Yet parents think they know what’s going on: 70% of parents are unaware of their kids online/phone activities.

The devices are just the beginning. The websites and activities are the real issues here. Heavy Facebook/Instagram use has infected youth with massive levels of anxiety. One-third of eighth graders spent large amounts of time online just reading what other kids were saying about them. One pediatrician cited in the book who only five years ago saw one patient a week for anxiety now reports three to four a day, virtually all of them young people. Merely leaving a conversation without saying “goodbye” (called “ghosting”) can cause remarkable unease. In a single year, 2017-2018, emergency room visits for suicidal ideatoin and/or self-directed harm rose by more than 25%. And this phenomena is reported worldwide, not just in America. (I can’t even begin to get into “cyberbullying” and human trafficking via the internet in such a short column).

I found hundreds of studies on changes in the brain caused by phones and/or devices. If you want a quick source, look for anything by UCLA’s Dr. Gary Small, one of the first to study the stimulation of the brain by a computer (and remember, that’s what a smartphone is). Scans of brain activity on internet surfers, gamers, even girls looking at their Facebook posts, show significant effects on brain activity, few of them good. The reliable Journal of the American Medical Association says “children who have more screen time have lower structural integrity of white matter tracks . . . that support language and other emergent literacy skills.” Still other studies found that reading on pads or screens changes the very way we read and radically diminishes understanding and retention.

As for devices being addictive, the science shies away from flatly stating this. Usually the phrases are “shows strong correlation with” or “is strongly associated with.” The reason for such mush phrases is that controlling for phone/device use that would allow for absolute “causation” statements would require massive long-term “double-blind” studies that likely could not be conducted given the restrictions on kids that would be required.

Yet when I asked the authors of these studies, as well as pastors, psychologists, therapists and others whether they thought the devices were addictive, with only one exception, they all said “yes.” Steve Jobs was so convinced the smartphone was a bad thing he wouldn’t let his own kids have one. Research has shown that devices cause the “dopamine tickle,” a phrase that refers to a release of the pleasure transmitter dopamine into the brain. Typical video game dopamine release are at the level of 100%, or about the same as sex (eating chocolate is rated at 50%, cocaine, 350%). Game-related addictions have even cause a new disorder to be named: “Internet Addiction Disorder,” or IAD. But it’s not just games: it turns out that releasing information on the web (“Do you know who I saw her with??”) also causes the “dopamine tickle.” Wait! It gets better (worse?): 55% of technicians monitoring heart bypass machines reported talking on their cell phones during surgery!

For our kids, it may be worse. Some 46% of all Americans said they could not live without their cell phones. A 2020 very large study of 21,000 high schoolers found the three most mentioned “feelings” they experienced were “tired, stressed, and bored,” with tired the most popular response. Why? Would it be because studies link phones to sleep deprivation? And keep in mind that a mere two hours a day on devices reduces language and thinking skills. At seven hours a day, research shows clear premature thinning of the cortex, a development that usually happns much later in a person’s aging process. How much time total do kids actually spend on phones and/or devices? Dr. Eimitri Christakis puts the number at 4.5 hours a day just on phones. Even kids admit they are spending too much time on phones, with 60% saying it is a “major problem’ in their life.

There is much more, including the dangers of texting and driving. But this is enough for now for you to ask, “So what do we do?

Here are three quick suggestions:

1) The first thing you and your kids need to do is to have an honest assessment of how much time you and they are on devices. This is time you are not interacting with another live person. So, carve out specific people time. That means, especially for parents with kids, car time and dinner time. No phones at dinner. No phones for anyone in the car unless it’s a GPS for around town. For longer trips, have the first half-hour out and the last half-hour back as no phone time.

2) Never allow children to sleep with their phones. If they (or you!) use a phone for an alarm, get a clock. Phones interrupt sleep in many different ways, as discussed in the book.

3) Most important, as you develop non-phone time and phone rules, parents remember it’s your phone. You pay for it, and therefore you get to set the rules.

These and many other suggestions, along with many sources and references for help, are in All Thumbs, and I’ve only scratched the surface. Start today learning to live better with your phone or your device!

Larry Schweikart is the co-author of the New York Times #1 bestseller, A Patriot’s History of the United States with Michael Allen and the author of Reagan: The American President. He also has an instructional history site, www.wildworldofhistory.com where this and full history curricula can be purchased.

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Two Toddlers Give us a Glimpse of America Outside of the Perpetual Outrage Mob

Today’s Campaign Update
(Because The Campaign Never Ends)

See? There is still justice in America. – If you were as outraged last year by the absurdly-light 30-day sentence handed down to the attacker of Senator Rand Paul, well, take heart: That case was remanded back to the federal district court that issued it yesterday by the 6th Circuit Court of appeals. The 6th Circuit ruled that the district judge lacked a “compelling justification” for the light sentence for the commission of an assault on a member of congress so brutal that Sen. Paul is still trying to recover fully from it.

The new Three Stooges: Sleepy, Sleazy and Dopey.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, closeup

If Vaudeville – where the original Three Stooges got their start – still existed, these guys would be a huge hit.

This is what real America – as opposed to social media/conventional media perpetual outrage America – really looks like:

Those of us who pay close attention to the news and are active on social media tend to forget that. The merchants of perpetual outrage at places like CNN, the New York Times, Facebook and Twitter want you all to believe that America is this horrible place where everyone hates everyone else and where every day in every city is just another confrontation between Antifa terrorists and the Proud Boys agitators. Conventional media and social media outlets want you to believe that that is the world you all live in because that belief generates traffic to their websites and viewers to their TV channels.

That’s the America they’re all trying to create.

But real America is different, and the real America perseveres.

The real America is a place in which my wife and I could take our entire three-generation family to spend a week in New York City last December and never experience anything but lovely, pleasant interactions with people of all races, colors, religions and creeds in crowded places all over the city.

The real America is the place where you go to your grandkids’ elementary school for Grandparents’ Lunch day, and spend an hour watching hundreds of children of all races, economic standing and upbringings and dozens of teachers and school administrators do nothing but smile, laugh and dine with one another.

The real America is the place where you go to the local Wal-Mart or Target or grocery store and don’t for a moment notice or care what the race or political leanings of the people shopping and working there happens to be.

The real America is the place where tens of millions of people get up every morning and go to work and engage in all manner of collaborative efforts with people from all manner of backgrounds and ages and get real stuff done that generates economic growth and improves our society. And then they get a group of those same people together to go grab a beer when they’re done working.

The real America is the place where tens of millions of people still get up on the Sabbath and go to churches, synagogues and mosques in thousands of cities in all 50 states.

The real America is the place where millions of little kids like the two in that video run up and hug each other and express real, genuine love because that is their natural behavior. The people at ABC who posted that video on Twitter yesterday want you to think that is a rare thing, but it’s something you can see everywhere in America every day if you just pay attention.

The perpetual outrage and hate thrown at us every day by the conventional media and social media mobs are learned behaviors, not our natural state.

The real America is the place in which tens of millions of ordinary, every day people of all religions, all races, all colors, all social standings and all backgrounds refuse to learn those behaviors.

That real America drives the perpetual outrage mob nuts. Keep it up.

That is all.

 

Today’s news moves at a faster pace than ever. Whatfinger.com is my go-to source for keeping up with all the latest events in real time.

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Facebook Jail: Not as Bad as Real Jail

Today’s Campaign Update
(Because The Campaign Never Ends)

Getting put in Facebook jail yesterday reminded me of the first time I got put into a real jail. It turned out to be the funniest moment of my life.

The Funniest Moment of My Life
 
So, I busted out of Facebook jail last night and then went right to bed ‘cuz I was sleepy. It was quite the 24-hour ordeal. Ok, it really wasn’t – it was actually kind of a relief if you want to know the truth. I actually got stuff done around the house for once.
 
That was not the funniest moment of my life, so don’t worry.
 
The funniest moment of my life was the first time I was in jail, which happened twice during my misspent youth. The second time was in the summer of 1974 when a buddy and I got arrested for streaking the parking lot at the Circle K store on St. Mary’s Street, but I’m not talking about that one, although it was all pretty funny, too. Maybe I’ll write about that incident in the future. Maybe.
 
But the first time I got tossed into the local lockup in my little South Texas hometown of Beeville was the night in early December, 1973 when I got arrested for running stop signs. I didn’t actually run the stop signs, but I got arrested for it because someone with a car that sadly looked like my rusted-out 1965 green Buick Le Sabre station wagon (my first car, which may Dad had bought from Wendell Duhon for $50 and a box of .44 magnum bullets) had apparently been running stop signs around town that early December Saturday night.
 
I knew I hadn’t run the stop signs because I had spent the evening at a party at the Segovias’ house – always great parties at the Segovias’ house, by the way. As luck would have it – and it was a rare stroke of luck in those days – I happened to be the only sober person at that particular party because I was taking pain medications because this party took place about a week after I had blown my knee out playing in our annual Thanksgiving Mud Bowl game on the band field at A.C. Jones High School.
 
So I couldn’t drink. Trust me, that was the only reason I didn’t also get charged with DWI that night, which would have made this story not funny at all.
 
Anyway, at about 11:30 I had gone out to the car to get something out of it – I don’t remember what exactly – and as I was about to head back to the party a police car screeched up and the police officer who I will not name because he was just doing his job ordered me to “assume the position!” Well, I watched Mannix and Hawaii Five-O, so I knew what that meant and did it.
 
As he was frisking me, the conversation went something like this:
 
“um, Officer, what’s going on?”
 
“You know what’s going on.”
 
“um, well, no, I really don’t.”
 
“Running stop signs – you know what you’ve been doing.”
 
“ummmm…see that party in that house over there? That’s what I’ve been doing.”
 
“Don’t bullshit me, son, I’ve been getting reports about this car all night.”
 
By this time, many of the party-goers had come out of the house to see what was going on, the sounds of the latest Led Zeppelin album pouring out the front door to awaken light-sleeping neighbors.
 
“Sir, if you would just ask any of those folks over there, they will tell you I’ve been here since about 6:00.” The Segovias liked to start their parties early in those days.
 
“Son, you just need to shut up before you really piss me off. Now, get in the back seat.”
 
And away we went. We got to the city jail, a small operation with a reception desk, a tiny waiting area and I think four small cells, three of which were empty. In the fourth, a very large man whose cheap-bourbon-and-vomit aroma wafted out to fill the entire facility, overpowering the otherwise omni-present smell of disenfectant, lay sleeping on the top bunk.
 
So of course, once they’d booked me in and figured out that they all knew my father very well, since he worked at the post office which was right next door to the jail, they decided to do the funny thing and tossed me into the cell with the drunk guy. Thankfully, he never batted an eye.
 
So here I am, 17 years old, never been in any real trouble in my life, no idea how I’m going to explain this all to my parents. Once I got used to the smell, I decided to just lie down on the bottom bunk and hope the drunk’s sweat didn’t leak down onto me.
 
After about an hour had gone by, just as I was about to nod off to sleep, I hear this voice coming through the small square window in the otherwise solid, grey cell door:
 
“Hey, Blackmon.” I look up to see the face of Zack Wright, a good friend who apparently had been appointed to be the spokesman by the 2-3 other wobbly friends standing there with him.
 
“Zack, what are you doing here?” I was worried because these guys were all underage, all pretty tipsy, and probably didn’t need to be hanging around the police station at that particular moment in their lives.
 
“Hey, we took up a collection at the party – we come to bail ya out!”
 
“Really? That’s great! How much money do you have?”
 
“We got, um, lessee here…39 dollars.”
 
Now, that was the funniest moment of my life, that moment when you find out that, even with such good friends doing their best to help you out of an absurd situation, you are well and truly screwed.
 
Anyway, I finally got my one phone call, and my poor sweet mother came and bailed me out. That cost $150, by the way, which is probably about $750 in today’s dollars. Which was real money to our family.
 
The next Monday, we went down and related the whole story to Kinkler Handley, one of the local attorneys who I think at the time was also the County Judge. He called the chief of police and informed him that, if this all went to trial, I’d have about 25 witnesses swearing that, not only had I been at that party all that evening, but I was the only one there who was purely sober.
It was literally the only time during my teenage years when I could have been made to look like an angel.
 
The charges were dropped that day, and Mom got her $150 back. I’m pretty sure the $39 that had been collected on my behalf went towards funding the next party at the Segovias’.
 
Life was a lot simpler in 1973.

That is all.

Follow me on Twitter at @GDBlackmon

Today’s news moves at a faster pace than ever. Whatfinger.com is my go-to source for keeping up with all the latest events in real time.

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