Ottawa·Point of View

Teens: Quit scrolling through life and put down your phones

Dante Caloia says smartphones are changing the way his friends act, and not for the better.

Dante Caloia, 17, worries about what smartphone addiction is doing to his high school peers

Dante Caloia, 17, worries about the impact of smartphones on young people. (Dante Caloia)

We know that smartphones and social media are changing the way teenagers act, and sometimes feel. As a 17-year-old who struggles with how and when to use my own phone, I'm starting to wonder whether these devices are helping the younger generation, or hurting us.

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When I was growing up, phones were a novel thing. Today, almost everyone I know has a smartphone, excluding my grandparents — who still use cassette tapes, for context — and my dad, who has a Samsung flip phone and is quite proud of it.

Now that all my friends have smartphones, it's seen as abnormal if you don't. I find I get puzzled looks when they realize I purposely don`t bring mine to school. "Why would you want to do that?" they ask.  

Any texting fights I've gotten caught up in have dragged on, because it's so easy to just type and send whatever you're thinking. 

The thing is, it's having a real impact on friendships, because kids use their phones to avoid uncomfortable silences. I can't count the number of times that I've finished a conversation with someone, and once there's an awkward pause they pull out their phone to escape. I have literally seen people pull out their phones to swipe back and forth between app screens, just to get out of having to sit with an out-of-place feeling.

There are other ways I've seen phones change my friends' behaviour, like making it easier to be aggressive. Any texting fights I've gotten caught up in have dragged on, because it's so easy to just type and send whatever you're thinking. These fights also take away any form of remorse because you don't have to look the person in the eye, just at your screen and a thread of texts.

A recent study revealed teenagers spend an average of nine hours in front of a screen, often that of their smartphone. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

I worry that people my age are becoming addicted to their phones. Whether it's at school or at a social gathering, I see people pull out their phones every few seconds, even during times when you might want to live in the moment. Like at a recent Drake concert at the Bell Centre, where I was taking in the fact I was seeing one of my favourite artists, and realized most people were filming the concert on Snapchat rather than actually watching it.

So many of my classmates are sleep-deprived, and I think it's because they keep their phone in their room. When I ask what they were doing up so late, the typical response is "scrolling," a word that describes the act of mindlessly browsing social media. 

Dante Caloia's brother, Darius, and their mom, Rachelle Elie, leave their smartphones downstairs to charge when they go to bed. Caloia would like to see more of his friends doing the same. (Dante Caloia)

Because of all this, I think there should be some limits for teenagers on their phones.

First, phones should not be in bedrooms at night. This helps give our minds a rest, and helps us to wind down. Second, there should be time limits for how long we spend on our phones. It's so easy to be on a phone for hours on end, without even realizing it. Newer iPhones now have a special setting that tells you how long you've been using it. It even has a tool that will shut down your phone at a certain time of day.

Teenagers now spend an average of nine hours a day in front of a screen. I think that needs to change. It's lowering our attention spans, making us sadder, and ruining our generation's social interaction. 

Dante Caloia is a Grade 12 student at West Carleton High School in Ottawa.