By Tommy Gagliano
Am I really about to go on a rant about smartphones, and “technology bad,” and how the younger generation sucks? Am I really about to out myself as a boomer trapped in a 20-year-old’s body? Am I seriously about to become the epitome of the “Old Man Yells at Clouds” meme? Well, if you’re reading this, that must mean this was published. So I guess I am.
This past summer was my fourth year working at a summer camp on Long Island. I absolutely love working there, despite the hot temperatures, long hours, high stress, and awful pay. My first two summers I was a counselor for the youngest campers, some of whom were as young as three years old. Working with that age group was a ton of fun for me, so I was not thrilled when I found out that for my third year I was being moved all the way to the other end of the spectrum, and would be a counselor for the middle school campers. My disappointment quickly vanished, however, as the kids turned out to be pretty awesome, and I ended up enjoying the summer of 2018 even more than the previous two. This past summer, I was promoted from a counselor to a Graduate Travel Program Specialist. I would be with the same age group as the previous year, but instead of being a counselor on campus, I would travel somewhere different with a group of kids every day. It was fun, but the experience was very different than being a counselor on campus. One major contrast was the use of smartphones. On campus, cell phones and other electronic devices are not allowed. On the Graduate trips, however, there are no rules against them, and their presence completely changes everything.
Boomers love to talk about how young people are “addicted” to their smartphones, and I used to think it was nonsense. However I now believe that there may be some merit to that idea. While “addiction” may be a stretch, the amount of time many of my campers spent on their phones was quite concerning to me. Every day by 10 AM I would hear campers asking others if they had a portable charger. A majority of them would spend the entirety of the bus rides to and from our trip locations on their phone. We would often hear random noises and meme songs coming from YouTube videos in the back. There was a group of boys that spent all of their free time playing Pokemon Go, which was particularly annoying for me and my co-counselor when we were walking through Manhattan with sixteen kids after seeing Aladdin on Broadway, or walking through the Bronx with twenty-five kids in the mass of people leaving the Yankees game. But the most concerning part of all was the social media obsession.
On the whole, social media was a major part of my campers’ lives, specifically the girls. The biggest offenders were Snapchat, Instagram, and worst of all, TikTok. (TikTok isn’t the worst because of the effects it had on my campers, it’s just the worst because the content on there is absolute cancer.) Countless discussions were had about how many followers one girl had, or how many likes another got. I once saw one of my campers, a 13-year-old girl, scrolling through a seemingly-endless list of Snapchat friends. I inquired about how she knew so many people, and she admitted to me that she had no idea who most of them were. I then asked why she added them, and her response was simply “views.” I had a similar conversation with another girl, who also told me she adds random people on Snapchat “for the views.” Aside from the obvious dangers of adding people you don’t know to a social media platform that displays your exact location, it was worrying to me that they cared so much about the number of people that saw their random photo of what they were doing every day.
The negative effects of social media were particularly obvious with one 12-year-old girl. She never put her phone down; she was always either on Snapchat or TikTok. She talked to me a lot, but the majority of our interactions were her showing me pictures from her gallery, or showing me TikTok videos that were not only cringey, but actually made me uncomfortable. The effects that this unhealthy social media obsession had on her mental health were glaringly obvious. Despite being a pretty girl, who at least one boy in the group had an obvious crush on, she was extremely insecure about her looks and her body. She referred to herself as “fat” on more than one occasion, including at Splish Splash, when she didn’t want to change into her bathing suit. (I convinced her to do so by saying that I would take off my shirt if she wore her bikini and we would face our insecurities together, so to all the people that I scarred with my scrawny, pale chest, its her fault, not mine.) Regardless of what we were doing, she never felt that she was good enough. Social media addiction is both a cause and an effect of this, as the likes, views, and followers were the only things that could make her feel like she had worth.
The problem with smartphones isn’t just with the kids, though. The parents are, arguably, even worse. Almost all of my campers, whose ages ranged from 11 to 14, were being tracked in some way by their parents. Most of them had their location monitored constantly through the GPS on their phones, and many of them told me that their parents read through all of their text messages. We even had one mother complain because she was tracking her 14-year-old daughter’s speed, and it showed that she was going “almost 70 miles per hour” on the Long Island Expressway. To me, this is an extreme invasion of privacy. If someone is old enough to have a smartphone, they are old enough to text without having their messages read by their parents. If they are old enough to go places on their own, then they are also old enough to be trusted to go those places without being tracked like some kind of chipped pet. Any parent-child relationship that lacks the trust to let the son or daughter go places without constant GPS surveillance, or to text their friends without having all of those messages read, is an unhealthy one. By trying to extend so much control over their kids, these parents are taking away their children’s opportunities to learn. Part of growing up is making mistakes, and learning from them. If parents keep their children in a bubble their whole lives, how will they ever survive as adults?
Maybe this makes me a boomer, but I’m starting to see how bad the negative aspects of smartphones really are. Obviously having constant access to the Internet on a device that fits into your pocket is awesome for a lot of things – but there are side effects. From social media obsessions affecting mental health, to helicopter parents treating their children like property, the rise of smartphones has caused some really negative changes to what it means to be a kid.