Cross Country Checkup

This 14-year-old doesn't have a cell phone and, no, he doesn't want one

Samuel Waite would sooner spend time in the great outdoors than on Facebook. And while he has plenty of face-to-face conversations with his friends, he worries those that are stuck behind screens are 'missing out on something.'

Samuel Waite says he has a landline if he needs to call a friend

Samuel Waite, 14, poses with his great-grandmother's rotary phone. The Waite family used it during a power outage after a tornado in Ottawa last week. Their neighbours, Waite's father said, had to charge cell phones in their cars. (Submitted by Brent Waite)

Samuel Waite is a teenager without a smartphone.

"Isn't that amazing?" the 14-year-old asked Cross Country Checkup host Duncan McCue.

The Ottawa teen says he would sooner spend time outside or building things in his garage than text and post selfies. Still, that doesn't mean he's unsociable.

"My friends and I, we talk face-to-face all the time," he said. "It's just that ... they have different ways of communicating that I don't do that much."

The idea of disconnecting from our digital lives isn't new, but as more and more research finds that technology has negative impacts — and as Silicon Valley takes steps to help us reduce our use of apps and devices — the notion is taking on a new life.

A study out this week from the University of British Columbia found that using a smartphone at the dinner table can make face-to-face conversations less enjoyable. In their latest iPhone software update, Apple Inc. added the ability to limit the time a user spends on certain apps.

But Waite doesn't have to worry about these technology-related problems.

"This summer, I played a lot outside, and what I find is that my friends, I think they're missing out on something."

Disconnection 'more fun'

University of Ottawa researcher Valerie Steeves says that the teens she's worked with crave time away from their phones.

Her project, Disconnection Challenge, asked a group of teenagers to log the time they spent on their phone — and how they felt — for one week.

Then they had to spend seven days without it.

They reported a sense of "relief," Steeves said, adding that time away from social media alleviated the worry of judgment from their peers.

Valerie Steeves is a professor with the University of Ottawa's Department of Criminology. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

What's more: "They certainly found that they had a lot more fun," she added.

According to Steeves' research, the desire to keep smartphones at the ready isn't entirely driven by teens. Many adults are just as attached to their phone.

In an effort to keep tabs on their kids, some parents enforce constant connectedness, she says. And parents who often use their own smartphones excessively may be encouraging the behaviour.

"We have a huge opportunity to model really healthy behaviour with these kinds of technologies," she said.

Weekend detox

Andrea Payne, 15, thinks the conversation about young people and cell phone use is overblown.

"To be honest, I think people make a bit of a generalization about teenagers," she told McCue. The Vancouver teen says that she has daily face-to-face conversations with her friends — and she has no problem putting down her phone.

"I certainly just will turn off my phone and not use it for a couple of days over the weekend."

Excessive use of smartphones and social media can lead to insomnia and anxiety. (Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images)

Payne says she doesn't keep the phone in her room. And she thinks other teens should set boundaries.

"It's important to remember what's important to you and realize that it's OK to be able to disconnect."

"You shouldn't be reading at one in the morning," she added.

The limits that Waite's family places on technology are even stricter. While the Ottawa teen prefers the great outdoors, he isn't a Luddite. The Grade 9 student uses technology at school, and his teachers encourage it.

At home, the same rules apply. "Digital things — I mean, other than television, of course — are used for solely educational purposes," he said.

His family disconnected their home internet more than 10 months ago.

So, instead of browsing Facebook, you'll probably find Waite cycling around his neighbourhood. And if he needs to schedule a meet up with friends?

"We have a landline, so I can call people if I need to."

Written by Jason Vermes with files from Maryse Zeidler


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