They care a lot about their looks. They’re teenage girls, they’ve always been that way. But now it’s amplified by their phones, by the platforms. Everyone is on a platform looking at everybody else. Now that our kids are so fixated with how they look they never miss a chance to check themselves in the mirror. They move from the mirror to their phones and occasionally glance up. I’m desensitized to it now but I remember what it was like at first, watching them pose for selfies in the car. And how it went on and on. Like they’re oblivious to their physical surroundings. And that upsets me the most, how the phone has enabled a virtual world that’s siphoned our attention away from what’s real, that’s created a world with its own set of truths reflecting the worst of us like a fantasy mirror with a witch’s curse. See what you want to believe no matter the cost.
There are many comparisons to make with the smart phone because it does so many things! It’s a pocket-sized computer, to start. You can find recipes for anything in the world you want to cook. Take pictures, video, measure a piece of wood, scan QR codes, dictate, watch porn, light your way down a dark flight of steps, check the weather, track your step count for the day, buy anything you want, hear any song you want, even call your mom! Because it does so many things we carry it around with us everywhere we go. What can compare throughout all of history to a thing that could do so much? It is the most marvelous tool, it far surpasses the hunting knife, the flint used to start a fire, the compass.
So we give it to our kids when they turn 12 and start middle school (in case there’s a shooting), and then we get mad at them when they can’t put it down. The phone becomes a rite of passage, a form of identifying as a member of society at an age where kids are desperately grappling with their identities, the core of who they are, and when they get to the other side of that passage there’s the internet and Chinese social media waiting for them on the other side. And they’re soon to be exposed to drugs and things like self-harm (#KYS) as they’re going through puberty and learning about pandemics and war in Ukraine.
So getting back to our two teenaged girls (14 and 17) I look to the oldest and wonder how she’s going to reflect back on this period, if it will feel like surviving some brush with psychic ruin, a soul death, assuming she can get to the other side of what the cell phone and associated content has done to her.
Like many people around the world, two years of dealing with a plague and physical isolation naturally drove us to our phones. If and when we did go to a restaurant, our phones replaced the menu. The video calls replaced face to face. And on and on. The phone became the ultimate tool for “contactless,” revealing both its saving grace and downfall.
As parents we knew letting our kids sink into their phones was dangerous but we didn’t know what else to do. Their anxiety and depression deepened, as many suffered similar effects around the world. But in the dark of their rooms at night, having confronted the terrors of their minds and struggled with the meaning of their existence and so on, it is the phone that is the one thing even therapists say you can’t take away. It’s a life line. They don’t know what they’d do without it. That’s true, and that’s distressing! It has become not only a charmed mirror from a kid’s fantasy book, it’s a vacuum attachment fixed to their souls! A remote control turned back on us.
I sit at the stoplight in my car outside the middle school where I drop Charlotte off every morning and watch the kids cross the street with their phones in front of them like way-finding devices, like divining rods people once used to locate water underground. They believed some had the gift to divine water and the Y-shaped twig held by these diviners would magically lead them to the source. Those “divining” would jerk and twitch in response to the rod, or the rod would jerk and twitch in response to the diviner.
I wonder where the phones are leading our kids, are leading all of us, what it’s done to us and if it’s too late to undo. I think of our oldest and how it’s a part of her DNA now, it’s tattooed to her existence, and what I’ve heard about getting tattoos removed. It’s a real bitch.