I got to spend time this summer with five children ages 11 to 16. They stayed with us in two separate visits.
The kids and their parents are delightful. We enjoyed them. We've watched them grow up. The children are polite, interesting, mindful -- and totally engrossed, to the point of obsession, with their cell phones. Only the 11-year-old didn't have one. The others seemed glued to theirs almost all waking hours, watching movies, texting friends, checking Instagram accounts and more.
This was all disturbing to me, even though maybe it shouldn't be. They aren't my children, and the parents are doing as well as they can in raising kids in a digital age.
I didn't have this issue when raising my son. He was born in 1975, and by the time he graduated from high school and struck out on his own, nobody had smartphones or Internet access. My biggest issues as a father were alcohol and grades.
I'm not sure how I would handle raising children now, but I'd like to think I would limit their exposure to screens of all kinds, including phones, gaming and TV.
According to a 2017 Nielsen report, about 45 percent of U.S. children ages 10 to 12 have their own smartphone with a service plan, not just Wi-Fi. The nonprofit organization Common Sense Media found four in 10 children ages 8 and under have their own tablets.
Another study found U.S. residents spend over five hours a day on mobile devices. Other studies suggest three to four hours. After watching our guests and observing people in restaurants, shopping and on my job at Dollywood, I gotta think the figure is closer to five than three.
I am not the best conversationalist. I am introverted, so carrying on a conversation with strangers is hard for me. Still, I do it willingly and with interest in what others are saying.
Talk. It's becoming a lost -- even dying -- method of communication. I do not see this as a positive move. Yet younger people prefer texting in shorthand. Funny, but few people use a cell phone for calls. They ought to change the name to something more appropriate.
Adults can do what they want. They pay for their phones and their plans. Children living at home, though, out to abide by rules regarding use of screen devices. Kids are on their phones during meals, sitting in front of the television, in the car, dining out and in bed before falling asleep.
There are studies that strongly suggest prolonged use of a tablet or cell phone can he harmful, that radiation from the phone can cause cancer. That link is inconclusive, but a consensus is growing.
One thing not in dispute is that over-viewing of a screen, especially before bedtime, can disrupt a child's sleep pattern because of the bright screen tricking the mind. A few of the children staying with us actually fell asleep with their phones on to a movie or some music video.
My fear is that across this country parents give their kids cell phones to stop them nagging about it and to keep them quiet and occupied so the adults can, well, use their own screen devices.
It is an SMH moment (for nontexters, that's shake my head) when I am eating out at a restaurant and see an entire family of four or five all using their phones instead of talking to each other. What could possibly be more important than families engaging with each other, not engrossed in some social media site or worse?
I am not some old fogey hopelessly longing for a simpler time. I enjoy my phone as well. I just pick my spots.
My advice to parents: Set ground rules. Limit screen time for your children to what experts say is around two hours a day, and never at meal time. And insist on kids reading at bedtime.
Like an announcer once said about a great running back: "You can't stop him. You can only hope to contain him." Apply that to cell phones and tablets, and this generation will come out just fine.
Stan Voit retired as editor of The Mountain Press in 2013. He has been a resident of Sevierville since 2005. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his Facebook page.