LORTON, Va. — An Imperfect Union brings together two people on opposite sides of an issue to work on a project in their community. Watch full episodes on Facebook Watch every Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET.
Three boys in suburban Maryland are lobbying their father for something almost every kid has these days – they want smartphones.
Yet their dad, who makes money by talking about technology and the future, won’t give his 15,13 and 11-year-old sons smartphones.
Teens in the United States have greater access to smartphones than ever. In fact, you’re much more likely to find someone age 13-17 who can access a smartphone than to find someone who can’t. A 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center found 95 percent of teens—up from 73 percent in 2014-2015, report they have smartphone access, with ownership almost equal across gender, race and socioeconomic groups.
More teens with smartphones also mean more parents concerned about the power of those phones in their children's hands. The Pew Research Center reports its survey found about two-thirds of parents of teens worry about their children getting too much screen time, with additional worries their kids will lose an ability to communicate in person or share too much of their private lives online.
So, what can parents do to alleviate their concerns? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends families set up media plans for school-aged children and adolescents which do things such as placing limits on the amounts and types of media which can be used and encouraging phone-free zones and phone-free family times.
As one family found, however, setting limits did not turn out to mean “set it and forget it.” The debate over smartphones for the DuBruvac family has turned into a daily discussion, and three members of the family allowed “An Imperfect Union” to listen in on the arguments from both sides.
Shawn DuBravac spends much of his time talking with companies and executives about how technology will change the future. As the author of the New York Times best-seller “Digital Destiny: How the New Age of Data Will Transform the Way We Work, Live and Communicate,” Shawn expected that he would help his three sons embrace technology in the same way.
“I wanted my kids to explore technology, to experiment with technology,” DuBravac said.
As a result, two of his sons, now ages 13 and 15, had largely unlimited access to smartphones. But eventually, DuBravac said that parenting approach started to fail. He said the boys were too connected with their smartphones and not connected enough with the family. The parents took away the kids’ phones. The youngest, who’s 11, didn’t get one at all.
According to DuBravac, his sons have time to get bored, but are also more creative when they’re not looking at screens. He worries whether his approach is holding the kids back by not allowing them to connect with friends who communicate primary through social media.
“This is the part that I worry about as a dad. What is the right balance? How much do I take away and how much do I let them set their own boundaries?” DuBravac said.
Gavin and Ryan DuBravac
Two of DuBravac’s sons embraced the opportunity to debate their dad about smartphone accessibility. Ryan is 13 and estimates 80 percent of his classmates have smartphones. Gavin is 11 and admits most fifth-graders still do not have smartphones. They both say they understand why their dad thinks they shouldn’t have phones, but they think he’s forgetting something.
“I think he realizes what he got out of being a kid without a phone, but then I don’t think he’s understanding what he missed without having a phone,” Gavin DuBravac said.
Gavin and Ryan say they feel left out from friends’ plans because they’re not able to quickly text and use social media. They say homework would be easier when using smartphones for research and support and worry they don’t have a way to quickly communicate with their parents in case of an emergency.
Ryan and Gavin say they think their dad should look less at how they might use smartphones and worry more about his own use.
“He always says research shows you shouldn’t use your phone an hour before you go to bed,” Gavin said.
“But I’ve seen him fall asleep looking on his phone.” Ryan added. “There are times where he says no electronics and I go downstairs and his phone is on, and it’s nothing that’s supposed to be for working.”
“An Imperfect Union” usually brings together two strangers to talk discuss a topic. In this episode, watch what happens when a family sits down to discuss a something they’ve debated nearly every day.
Find out who makes the final smartphone call in the newest episode of “An Imperfect Union” for Facebook Watch.
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