graph lonely

Surge in Child Loneliness From 2007 to Present, Coinciding with Advent of iPhone

This nnrderdeyb
remarkable piece in The Atlantic
by psychologist Jean Twenge looks at the emotional demographics of Millennials. She has been doing generational research for 25 years, and writes that:

Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so….I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys.

Then she started looking at before and after the introduction of the iPhone. Here’s one of her many  stark graphs:


Feelings of loneliness and “being left out” shot up after the iPhone came on the scene, with kids’ ability to witness, constantly, how much fun everyone else was (or at least seemed to be) having.

Twenge notes that correlation is not causation, but nonetheless makes a persuasive case that kids spending more time on social media, rather than being out and about, are less happy than earlier generations, and also less happy than their current-day counterparts who get away from their screens to do more things “irl” — in real life, like holding a job, or meeting up with friends. Even doing homework rather than checking in on social media seems to make kids happier.

Twenge is no anti-tech zealot or nostalgia nut. She’s just reporting what she sees as a researcher. Here’s another of her graphs:


As she notes:

[T]he allure of independence, so powerful to previous generations, holds less sway over today’s teens, who are less likely to leave the house without their parents. The shift is stunning: 12th-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently as 2009.

Her solution is to try, as tough as it may be, to help our kids cut down on phone time.

I’d add that part of that solution is to make it easier and more natural for kids to be part of the real world, on their own, as early as possible. Give them that foundation of confidence and competence — getting around, playing, making things happen — that they can build on later.

That’s why I so heartily suggest the Free-Range Kids Project —  having teachers tell kids to go home and ask their parents if they can do ONE THING that they feel ready to do: walk the dog, make dinner, ride their bike to school. This re-normalizes kids doing things in the neighborhood, the way most of us parents did at their age. (Please drop me a line if your school might want to do this. It’s free! It’s fun! It makes parents AND kids more confident! I’m happy to talk to any principal or teacher interested: )

In short: We have to make the world beyond the bedroom belong to our kids as much as their sadphone — er– smartphone does. – L

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48 Responses to Surge in Child Loneliness From 2007 to Present, Coinciding with Advent of iPhone

  1. Emily August 6, 2017 at 12:13 pm #

    The 2015 12th graders vs 2009 8th graders was the bit that got me. I would’ve expected something like that in comparison to, say, 1991 (when I was in 8th grade), but well within my adult lifetime?

  2. Theresa Hall August 6, 2017 at 12:41 pm #

    Even though I don’t mind kid having a phone if a important call is needed I don’t think they need some fancy smart phone. They don’t need to be looking at screen all the time. There are other things in life besides phones.

  3. James Pollock August 6, 2017 at 1:04 pm #

    It looks like everything changed around January, 2009.

    Thanks, Obama.

  4. PJH August 6, 2017 at 2:51 pm #

    Meanwhile, people dying due to bedsheets affects the skiing industry profits…

  5. SKL August 6, 2017 at 3:47 pm #

    I saw this article posted somewhere else. I don’t believe this is because of iphones.

    I think it’s a combination of things:

    1) the parenting / societal fear-based trends against letting kids go anywhere without their custodial adult. To the point where some kids are scared into thinking they don’t want to venture out.

    2) differences in the way kids think and talk about themselves. Everybody needs to claim a syndrome, a disorder, some sort of poor-me or look-at-me identity. Everybody has anxiety and depression, whether they technically do or not. They are anxious because their mom or their teacher might be disappointed, they are depressed because their boyfriend is going out with another girl. These are not new, but they weren’t described the same way in past generations.

    3) the influence of the internet would be to encourage #2 above, so yeah, there is that, but it doesn’t mean the kids are actually more miserable than teens ever were.

    I am old enough to remember so much bad shit, so many suicides and runaways and nervous breakdowns and teen alcoholics and dropouts and abuse and poverty, as well as the general teen angst that strikes almost everyone at that age. Now this lady is gonna tell me that folks in past generations were so much happier than today’s kids? Sorry. She’s using bad data.

    And everything that lady blames on iphones, I used to do when I was a teen in the early 1980s. Staying up til 4:30am most nights. Being alone in my room (introverts do that). Thinking seriously about suicide. Feeling alienated (it’s called hormones!).

    Also, she seems a little annoyed that teens are waiting longer to have sex and drive drunk. Well that’s a bummer….

  6. Donald August 6, 2017 at 5:50 pm #

    Sales strategists are very good at what they do. They target the insecurities and exploit them. That’s why mobile phones are now a fashion accessory. Being seen with an old phone is similar to wearing a 1970’s outfit. Some find it embarrassing to have an old phone. I’m exaggerating but not by much. This is ridiculous but sadly it’s true.

    I’d be embarrassed if I was as shallow as that!

  7. Donald August 6, 2017 at 6:46 pm #

    Here’s a comedy about the mobile phone and how people use it to hide behind

  8. Workshop August 6, 2017 at 7:37 pm #

    There is likely a change in behavior among adults as well, coinciding with the iphone and rise in social media.

    We post on Facebook the idealized version of our lives. It’s what we want to show the world. No one posts the ugly stuff that happens to us, whether it’s spending hours studying for a test or the funeral we had to attend. We get a dopamine hit when someone “likes” one of our posts, or replies. And as great as dopamine is, we’ve raised a generation of children to crave it.

    How many kids “need” social media? I’ll wager none, because somehow a bunch of us were able to do group projects and study and have active social lives prior to the advent of social media. But how many kids are well and truly addicted to social media? Take it away from them and hear them scream: it’s the same reaction you’d get if you take cigarettes or heroin away from addicts.

    Couple that with a generation of parenting skills that focused on “self esteem” and you’ve got a recipe for lots of people who are going to be unable to handle the inevitable failures that life throws at them.

    I’d start buying stock in pharmaceutical companies, because anti-depressants are going to be even bigger than they already are.

  9. Resident Iconoclast August 6, 2017 at 8:16 pm #

    Oh it’s not just the phones, which are mostly a “symptom.” One other commenter (SKL) called B.S. on the data, mentioning that in his (or her) youth there were plenty of suicides, addiction, and dysfunctional behavior. I know from experience that this observation is right.

    However, someone else mentioned that the “sales strategists” are very, very, good when it comes to product design. And it is the intersection between teen insecurity and the diabolical design of what RUNS on the phones and computers that hooks the kids into social addictions, magnifying their insecurity and depressions. In other words, the popular get even more popular, and the unpopular get even more unpopular. And there is no escape, no refuge for kids under pressure.

    Well, SKL is right that we had our stresses too, and we adapted to them. The pace of change these days in marketing and science has sped up, taxing humans’ ability to adapt. Couple that with the statistic the author mentioned–kids going out less every week “by themselves”–and you have a prescription for a threatening form of mind control. Instead of independence, just the opposite has become the goal. A safe, careful, protected, obedient, and of course insecure population.

    My neighbor never lets her kids outside. Soon, one of them will be going to college. I wonder what he’ll do to survive. Mark Zuckerberg over at facebook won’t be helping him much.

  10. lightbright August 6, 2017 at 9:43 pm #

    From above: “Twenge notes that correlation is not causation, but nonetheless makes a persuasive case . . . ”

    From the linked article: “Of course, these analyses don’t unequivocally prove that screen time causes unhappiness; it’s possible that unhappy teens spend more time online. But recent research suggests that screen time, in particular social-media use, does indeed cause unhappiness.”

    We all know that cause isn’t correlation. The researcher just found the correlation compelling enough to explore other research *linking* teen depression to increased screen time.

  11. lollipoplover August 7, 2017 at 12:35 am #

    @SKL- the CDC just released data on teen suicides:

    “Researchers found a substantial increase in suicides among teen girls and boys in the U.S. from 1975 to 2015, with the rate among girls hitting a record high. From 2007 to 2015 alone, suicide rates doubled among teen girls and by more than 30 percent among teen boys.”

    I don’t think it’s as simple as blaming technology, but the increase is real. We live in strange times where children are safer than ever yet so unhappy they take their own lives. Perhaps it has to do more with social media, which should probably be renamed antisocial media as it seems kids can have hundreds of *friends* and followers yet have no real connections to support them in real life.

    Some kids base their self-esteem on the number of *likes* they get and their popularity online. There’s a whole new world of youtubers gaining fame and money simply by being popular. And then there’s FOMO and those that use social media to lash out and say cruel things they would never say in person. It is very easy for kids to be mean online!

    But blaming iphones for these problems is like blaming forks for the obesity epidemic. It is much more complicated. That said, my two teens that have phones have to dock them on our charging station at 9pm each night(unless they are out).
    I personally think it is more about balance and learning to use technology responsibly. Smart phone technology is here to stay and parents need to adapt to how it can fit into our lives in a positive way while managing the many pitfalls. It is tough for adults, too.

  12. sexhysteria August 7, 2017 at 1:45 am #

    The real culprit may be the increase in helicopter parenting. Young people spend more time online because they have less freedom to go out and actually be with friends.

  13. Donald August 7, 2017 at 3:49 am #

    What shits me is that so many fantasize about non-existing problems or the ones that have a 0.0001% chance of happening.

    “Instead of independence, just the opposite has become the goal. A safe, careful, protected, obedient, and of course insecure population.”

    “Researchers found a substantial increase in suicides among teen girls and boys in the U.S. from 1975 to 2015, with the rate among girls hitting a record high. From 2007 to 2015 alone, suicide rates doubled among teen girls and by more than 30 percent among teen boys.”

    The above are major problems and are very real. However, many parents pat themselves on the back for ignoring these so that they can ‘protect’ their child from the boogieman. They confuse tv shows such as Criminal Minds or Bones to be the reality.

    “A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact.”
    ― Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner, Author, and well-regarded psychologist

  14. Megan August 7, 2017 at 5:11 am #

    Kids were and never are without problems, many of them serious. For example, we had lots of freedom in the 70s, but if you had special problems you were screwed because few adults felt like parenting under any circumstances. I think IPhones can and probably do contribute to “bowling alone,” as Robert Putman puts it in his book of the same name, but it can’t be good that millions of kids are being given strong psychiatric drugs because they are inconvenient to adults in one or more ways. It must be pretty depressing to hear you’re learning “disabled” because you weren’t reading fluently by age 6, and then there’s the fact that kids are growing up 100% under adult supervision. It’s unnatural and depressing for kids to be treated like housecats when they’re actually lions. That’s why they’re overweight. The common element is adults: self-absorbed yet micromanaging, often stupid, and of course, millions of adults don’t remotely have their shit together. When kids were allowed to rely much more on themselves and other kids, they were not all happy–far from it–but they were out in the world, learning that they were smart and capable. It’s a rare kid today who gets that message.

  15. Jon J August 7, 2017 at 5:22 am #

    I agree with sexhysteria. When did helicoptering and keeping kids inside really hit an inflection point and start to take off? The early 00s. So the trend in the graph starts when the first kids to entirely grow up like that reach the ages included, then continue to dominate it more and more. It’s good evidence to show parents their paranoia about rare tragedies is much more likely to hurt their kids than help. Trading a protection against a 0.0001% risk of kidnapping/death/whatever for a 90% chance of anxiety, depression, and lack of life skills.

  16. BL August 7, 2017 at 5:30 am #

    “I am old enough to remember so much bad shit, so many suicides and runaways and nervous breakdowns and teen alcoholics and dropouts and abuse and poverty, as well as the general teen angst that strikes almost everyone at that age. Now this lady is gonna tell me that folks in past generations were so much happier than today’s kids? ”

    It’s not just that bad stuff happened then (and happens now), but what about the good stuff?

    How much “good stuff” can happen when you’re in a room alone with an iPhone?

    Somebody can “like” something you post to Facebook or Instagram or whatever. That’s about as good as it gets.

    OK, so you don’t want kids engaging in sex. But if they’re together, then can kiss or hold hands.

    They can go bowling or ice skating.

    They can try to start a garage band (and maybe succeed).

    Play a game of pickup basketball.

    And many many more things, depending on location and personal inclinations.

  17. BL August 7, 2017 at 5:33 am #

    Off-topic (but from Lenore’s twitter feed)

    “So I’m just 33,000,000 views late to discovering @AxisOfAwesome vid: HOW ALL ROCK SONGS USE JUST 4 CHORDS. So fun”


    Woodie Guthrie once said that if you’re using more than two chords, you’re just showing off.

    But, of course, Woody was a folk musician, not a rock musician, so he wasn’t just showing off.

  18. Nicole R. August 7, 2017 at 8:09 am #

    I think social media (especially accessed so frequently on phones) is definitely a contributing factor because it allows us to quickly compare our “right now” to somebody else’s “best face”. It gives kids a distorted picture of reality.

    But I agree with others above that a large chunk of this trend is loss of independence for kids. They aren’t developing an authentic sense of self esteem or being given the time to really figure out who they are. And as another poster already mentioned, things change so quickly nowadays that people can’t keep up.

    I also expect that *parental* technology is a factor as well. Kids don’t get their parents’ full attention when the *adults* are on their phones / reachable by their jobs at all hours, etc. Parents are spending more time in the *presence* of their kids, but less time actually *with* them. They accompany them to every activity, but miss those little moments when their kids could really use a bit of guidance.

  19. AmyP August 7, 2017 at 8:32 am #

    I would be hesitant to say that the iPhone increases the amount of lonely people. Where I think it may (or may not-it’s complicated and I’m not putting anything forth as hard fact) have an impact is that it makes it easier to come across like minded people. Most people find these subjects tough to talk about with other people. So prior to the internet being so widespread a lot was kept in the darkness of our minds, but the internet (which is so so easy to access with the iPhone and has led to social media) provides a certain amount of anonymity. And not just anonymity, but a certain “freedom” to say certain things that are more difficult to say face to face. Now, you could say it could be a good thing to be able to see and realize that other people may be able to relate to you and may be feeling the same thing, and I’m not going to argue that. But on the flip side, it’s so easy to become “stuck” in the feelings by obsessively seeking that out. It’s been shown that suicide can be contagious sort of. It’s not that people aren’t already having those thoughts, it’s just that it becomes more “acceptable” to do something once you’ve seen somebody else do it. With that being said, the iPhone can be used to help and not hurt. I believe that it’s important to embrace this change because with the bad, there is the potential for so much good as well. Any number of great ideas that have/could be pulled off through this same access to social media and for the same reason really (people getting hooked on ideas). Also, because it’s here whether we want to be or not. As a free range parent, I believe it to be important to be so in the digital world as well. When we send our children out into the world we teach them skills to navigate it and hope they make the right decisions. It’s the same concept when I send mine out into the digital world. My oldest has a smartphone and I have talked with him about what is smart to do and not smart to do. And that’s it. I hope he makes the right decisions. Worrying about it to the extent of banning in or monitoring his every move there is no different than if I were to keep him inside the house or constantly monitor him by being present.

  20. Claudia August 7, 2017 at 10:00 am #

    It does leave me wondering if I’m going to have to get to know my kids’ friends’ parents in secondary school and be arranging for them to actually leave the house. It’ll be like ‘Please, I’d like hordes of teenagers in my kitchen eating all my food!’

  21. Megan August 7, 2017 at 10:43 am #

    Jon J–Helicoptering really took off in the 1980s. The 1970s was really the last relatively free range decade. (Relatively because kids in the 30s and 40s, for instance, were given much more responsibility and leeway to explore.) Certainly the trend has been deepened and elaborated, but there is a pretty big demarcation between kids born after the 70s and those before.

  22. John B. August 7, 2017 at 12:02 pm #

    Of course I don’t have any kids BUT if I had a kid in the 8th grade or even in early high school, I would only allow them to own an ordinary cell or track phone and I would never buy them a smart phone. Primarily because kids have a tendency to lose things, at least I did when I was 14. Think it has to do with brain development. Well, losing a $40.00 track phone does not reach the magnitude of losing a $500.00 smart phone!

  23. Sandi August 7, 2017 at 12:08 pm #

    Or maybe they are lonely because they are always locked away at school or stuck at home doing way too much homework. Maybe it’s because they never get to go anywhere for fear of something bad happening to them. Maybe it’s because kids don’t spend any time outside or because they are constantly told that they are vulnerable and weak. Or maybe because both of their parents are so busy working that they never spend time with them.

    Why not draw the vertical line on the second graph at 1995? I’m sure there’s something we could blame that happened there. The first graph starts at 1991 and the second at 1976. What’s missing on the first graph that doesn’t support her view?

    This sort of “science” is ridiculous and only adds to parents’ fear of not doing everything perfectly when it comes to their children. Now they have to be afraid of letting their kids use modern technology instead of setting an example and discussing why balance is important.

  24. Archimedes August 7, 2017 at 12:10 pm #

    I’ve seen studies a while back that show a stronger connection with negative information. With the advent of the internet it’s constant bombardment. As mentioned above, it seems to be a downturn starting in the late 90s. Surveys on where people thing things like crime have been getting worse seem to parallel the internet.

    This seems to correlate strongly with helicopter parenting getting more prevalent.

    My kids are loaded to the gills with tech. At 4 and 7 they’re allowed on family X-Boxes, an iPad each, the older one has a Surface and channels he’s allowed to watch. And yet, there’s no signs of an issue. We don’t draw hard rules on use, because their tendency is to use them below what I would allow.

    Yesterday, pouring down rain, they preferred to set up a putt-putt course with stuff around the house, teach the cat to fetch, play Robot Turtles, build with Legos, work on the Hobbit, help me in restocking homemade teriyaki sauce, etc.

    Largely they use it to interact. Papa can be on Skype and effectively be there with them launching a rocket, or see him go down a big hill. I didn’t have that growing up.

    Last week out of town on business they sent me bike videos trying a hill they’d been afraid of before.

    The oldest wanted to try hitting clubs so I sent him you tube videos and he sent me videos of him practicing.

    They’re happy.

    My wife is more like what’s been mentioned above. Unhappy because of seeing people that look like they do nothing but play.

    The kids I’ll have to watch, but so far they’ve shown no sign tech is seen as something to replace life, but to augment it.

  25. James Pollock August 7, 2017 at 12:11 pm #

    If I had to take a stab at explaining the first table, my first inclination would be to wonder if it were related to A) the trend towards smaller families in industrialized countries, and B) fallout from the terrorist attack in 2001 combined with fallout from the Great Recession in 2008. But I’m not sure how you measure that scientifically.

    Historically, the “traditional” American family as it was imagined around the time of my birth was two parents, and 2 kids. Some families had only one child, either because they only wanted one or hadn’t gotten around to making the second one yet. And then there were some families which had lots of children. There was the TV show “8 is Enough”. Off the top of my head, I think families with 3 kids were more common on TV. “Happy Days” had three Cunningham children (yes, three. Oldest brother Chuck went upstairs one day and was never heard from again). “Family Ties” had 3 (then 4 when they needed a ratings boost), “Growing Pains” had 3, “Home Improvement” had 3. Powerhouse TV family the Huxtables had 4, then 5, then they just started adding cute kids at random. Heck, Even the Brady Bunch had 3 kids in the family… until they combined. Yes, yes, they combined right in the opening theme song, and were one big family in the show… but they DID need to explain how come there were so darn many kids in the family. The Simpsons have three children.
    There were some only children, too… “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” was an only. Today, “The Goldbergs” have 3 kids.

    One other factor, that’s working on a longer time-scale… we lose fewer children these days, so the prospect of losing a child, much less the actuality, is far more devastating. Back in the days when parents would have 17 children and 4 or 5 would survive to adulthood, because various diseases and injuries and infections were much more likely fatal. Today, a good many people, quite possibly a majority, don’t know anyone who has lost a child. We know OF them, because we have modern information technology, but do you know anyone well who’s been through it? The support group is not there naturally, you have to go seek it out. It’s not as close as the family on the next farm over, as it was in the 19th century. We can prevent or cure so many diseases that would have killed, that when we cannot prevent or cure something, it hits us extra hard.
    The people who actually have to deal with such loss have a very difficult time, but the people who don’t, but try to empathize, have nothing to gauge against. And then when they start considering risk, they place too much emphasis on those very severe, but very VERY unlikely, events. We don’t have any children dying of smallpox now, and an amazingly small number of cases of plague (that one’s still out there, but it’s treatable if detected). The most substantial risks to children in America are cars, and suicides. But we need cars, or most of us do, so that we can’t really build a plan to eliminate cars from our lives. And suicides, well… they’re famously hard to handle, so we shy away from that one. But perverts who hurt kids? It’s EASY to be against that, and it would be devastating to lose a child that way.

  26. SKL August 7, 2017 at 12:24 pm #

    Today’s illegal drugs are also a lot different from those of past years, so that could also be a contributing factor.

    Blaming it on the iphone is basically supplying overprotective parents with a new bogeyman, giving them an excuse to further curtail their kids’ independence.

  27. James August 7, 2017 at 1:28 pm #

    Smart phones may be part of it (being exposed to the best aspects of your friends’ lives constantly is going to have an effect), but I seriously doubt it’s the whole story.

    The immediate confounding factor that springs to mind is homework. How many hours of homework were children in those age groups doing a night over that period of time? It’s gotten completely out of hand in recent years, and that’s going to have serious psychological effects. I’ve seen kids that, when you add up class time and homework time, are working more than 12 hours a day! That alone is going to destroy anyone’s positive outlook. But it gets worse, because there’s little time left for socializing under such a schedule–which means not hanging out as much with friends.

    A second question is, what IS happiness? This isn’t a flippant answer. How I define the term may not be how you do. Definitions shift in surprisingly short timeframes. SO we may not be comparing apples to apples here.

    A third question is, what constitutes hanging out with friends? I have friends all over the world (geology background; it’s an occupational hazard). I’ve occasionally spent an afternoon playing cards online with friends in various places, or playing an online video game with them. Hanging out in person is a physical impossibility; we’re not on the same continent. But we’re socializing and enjoying one another’s company as best we can. Does that constitute hanging out with friends? I don’t have to leave the house to do it, but I get many of the same social benefits as if I had.

    I expect this third has a strong influence on the second graph. The downward trend started well before the introduction of iPhones; therefore that tech cannot be solely responsible for the trend, and likely isn’t a driver (it may be a contributing factor).

  28. lollipoplover August 7, 2017 at 3:52 pm #

    “Blaming it on the iphone is basically supplying overprotective parents with a new bogeyman”

    Our teens didn’t get phones until they were entering 7th grade (middle school) and doing after school activities and depending on rides and carpools. Before that they rode bikes to school but didn’t need a phone and never had any problems.

    The iphone was a sore subject in our family because we got our kids very basic smart phones (they called them “dumb phones”) but they served their purpose and were affordable and not as fragile as the iphones. I don’t even own an iphone!
    Still, both teens saved up to purchase iphones.

    My oldest is 16 and is on his phone a lot. But he also started his own business this summer and has used social media as a free way to advertise and compete locally.
    He did a post on our community Facebook page and has gotten over 80 new customers and is booked for the rest of the summer and weekends into the school year. For him, social media has allowed a somewhat introverted, hardworking kid to connect to strangers in our community who he would never have reached in any other way. He has learned that a happy customer given some business cards can give him many referrals. The little old ladies absolutely love him and have put up positive reviews and testimonials of his work on our community page. He’s also *friended* other teens from his school that are entrepreneurs as well as local businesses that could use his services.
    And he started it all with a post on his iphone…go figure.

    Maybe it’s not so much the technology, but the mindset of the person using the technology.

  29. Amy August 7, 2017 at 4:16 pm #

    The amount of homework kids have today is insane! I never ever had as much growing up, not even in high school. There are a ton more Honors and AP classes, which weren’t even a thing when I was a kid.

  30. hineata August 7, 2017 at 6:41 pm #

    Did anyone even ask children, prior to about 1980, if they were happy? I don’t remember it particularly being a thing in the early seventies (caring about our relative happiness, I mean) though my mum did powder up my dad’s Valium in 1977 for me when I had a teacher I was petrified of (she didn’t tell me what she’d done till I was an adult ).

    The Ray Bradbury version of childhood (even when the kids are fighting aliens ) IS enough to make one cry with nostalgia, but I am not sure it ever existed. I remember introverts too when I was a kid, and having those tendencies myself sometimes.

  31. Archimedes August 7, 2017 at 9:20 pm #


    Life gets in the way of my socializing, so aside from trivia once a month, mine is online too. The benefits may be better. I get games, stimulating conversation, etc. all while pants free.

    No pants. At all. While socializing. And it’s socially acceptable.


  32. Donna August 7, 2017 at 9:23 pm #

    I think helicopter parenting is far more to blame than the iphone. It even negatively impacts non-helicoptered kids. My daughter wanted to see the Emoji Movie (yes, I begrudgingly admit that I somehow raised a child who wants to see the Emoji Movie). It would take a sizable sum of money to pay me to sit through that movie, so I suggested that she get her friends together and I would drop them off and pick them up at the movie. She was so excited to both see this movie and do it without parents. None of her friends were allowed to go without a parent. She was majorly disappointed. I felt so bad for her that I offered to go to the movie with her, but she doesn’t want to see it any more.

    I think that the notion of family-time is also impacting kids going out with their friends. That seems to be a big deal with some families. Some weekends my kid can’t find playmates because her friends are having “family-time.” I don’t mean something big was planned, but just that the family is spending the weekend consumed in togetherness. And there have been times when I’ve wanted to bring a friend when I was taking my kid some place like the fair or an amusement park and her friend couldn’t come because that was something the friend’s parents planned to do as a family. Not as in there were already plans to go Six Flags the next day and kiddo doesn’t want to go two days in a row, but a general “I want my child to experience that with me.” That stuff never happened when I was a kid. Sure, we sometimes planned to do things on a weekend as a family, but the idea that we needed to set aside all other plans so that we could just hang out at home as a family outside of a holiday or other special occasion never happened. And parents seemed to have much less of a mentality that their children’s experiences belong to them and were happy to let them go off with another family to do things, but maybe I will get less of that as she gets older and fewer things are new experiences.

  33. SKL August 8, 2017 at 5:06 am #

    Donna, my experience was different as a kid – it was unusual to be asked to go anywhere with another family – but that made it special, and saying no would be strange unless there was a significant conflict i.e. we’re going to Yosemite that week.

    It’s similar with my kids. We (read: I, the person with the car) aren’t that social, so when my kids get asked, I almost always say yes if I can swing it at all. If they were doing stuff with buddies all the time, it might be different.

    I wonder if “family time” is code for what used to be called “grounded.” 😛 When kids are getting too smart, sometimes I think they need some time away from both screens and other kinds of external stimulation, so they can get their head back on straight.

  34. James Pollock August 8, 2017 at 5:20 am #

    ” That stuff never happened when I was a kid:”

    It did when I was. For a lot of folks, the competing activity was church… My parents believed I would be fine if I grew up un-indoctrinated into a church; but other parents apparently believed that church was something for the family to do together, every time.

    “Helicopter parenting” is a new name for something that has been around for a fairly long time. I was allowed to travel quite a ways; generally, my limit was however far I could get and still get back home on my own. Other parents put sharper limits on their kids, sometimes for obvious, good reasons, and sometimes for reasons that may well have been obvious, good reasons that I just didn’t get when I was a kid, and sometimes for reasons that were based on different assumptions about the world and childrens’ place in it.

    “I wonder if “family time” is code for what used to be called ‘grounded.'”
    Your mileage may vary, of course, but I don’t think so. Over the course of my lifetime, there have been a few major changes in family dynamics. One is the rise in single-parent families, and the close companion, divided households. When two families have to split up the time with the kids instead of doing it together, the kid has more time tied up in mandatory activities. The first few years after my divorce, my daughter’s time was subject to the court-ordered parenting plan, which gave me time to manage my daughter’s activities, and times in which I had to send her off to her mother’s, and no flexibilities of any kind. Later, my ex-wife decided to move out of state, and suddenly I was “managing” all my daughter’s time, except for half the summer when she was away, and suddenly I had flexibility again. When my parents divorced, custody was two weeks in summer and a handful of holidays, not like today where there’s 50/50 custody and alternating weekends and whatnot.
    The other big differences are A) mothers being more likely to be at work during the day, and B) fathers being MUCH more involved in their kids’ lives than they were a couple of generations ago. I’d call that second one a net gain for the kids, but spending more time with dad means less free time to spend away from home with other kids.

  35. James August 8, 2017 at 9:09 am #


    “No pants. At all. While socializing. And it’s socially acceptable.”

    Well, with the crew I run with (ran with?), pants were always optional. To be fair, most of us are polite enough to wear a kilt.


    “I think that the notion of family-time is also impacting kids going out with their friends. That seems to be a big deal with some families.”

    Along with that, I think the constant push to be in activities is driving some of this. When you’ve got music class, and swim lessons, and baseball, and football, and soccer, and ACT prep, and all the rest going on, there’s precious little time to be with your family–parents need to schedule it, or forego it. It’s no longer the norm to have quiet evenings. I’m starting to see this with my kids–my wife is pushing them to be in various activities (at 2 and 3!!!), which means we have about half an hour to cook and eat supper and about twenty minutes to let the kids unwind before bed.

    I was a home-body when I was a kid (I was a nerd, with bad eyes so sports were out), but when an opportunity came up to be out of the house I took it, be it going somewhere with friends, working on my grandfather’s farm, or just going to the hardware store for Dad. Home was the default, so anything else was exciting. Today, “anywhere else” is the default, and being HOME Is the exciting change of pace!

  36. test August 8, 2017 at 11:46 am #

    @Donna When I was a kid, things like family socializing or activities were priority too. Definitely when we went visit grandparents or they were planned to come, leisure activities were supposed to be second. One grandparents lived within walking distance (half an hour walk or so), it was not long trip. But something similar was with smaller family plans for weekend, it was supposed to be priority even if the plan was something small. Even after I had plenty of own activities and was pretty much almost adult, parents still expected me to spend once in a while weekend socializing with family. Showing up was expected from adults too.

    You could not go if you had competition or something similar important, but not if you went just socialize with other kids.

    Frankly on second topic, I would be careful with allowing kids to go to bigger amusement park with other parents. I would dislike the unstated expectation of reciprocity that goes with it. Parks visits and such are more relaxing to me when I have only my kids with me. I know better what I can expect, it is less tiring and we can choose activities without interference of someone who likes a bit different things.

  37. QuantumMechanic August 8, 2017 at 3:55 pm #

    One thing I think she needs to take into account, especially since she so prominently mentions lack of getting drivers’ licenses, being driven by parents a lot, and not hanging out with friends as much:

    Back in the mid-1980s when you got a driver’s license at age 16 it was a full, real license and you could go anywhere with anyone at anytime with it.

    These days (as I understand it) the licenses that under-18s get are heavily, heavily neutered and not nearly as useful as they were back in the day (have to have an adult in the car, can’t drive after dark, and so on.)

    Makes having a license less attractive and you can’t just drive with (or over to) a friend by yourself.

  38. James August 8, 2017 at 4:55 pm #

    “These days (as I understand it) the licenses that under-18s get are heavily, heavily neutered and not nearly as useful as they were back in the day (have to have an adult in the car, can’t drive after dark, and so on.)”

    I don’t think it’s QUITE that bad. In Ohio I know (thanks to young relatives) that there’s a limit to the number of kids you can have in the car without an adult, and like you said, no driving at night, but generally the law accepts that teens need to get to school, work, and fun places. Taking a car out for a date, or for a trip with friends, is still a real possibility.

    Reminds me of an incident in college, that relates to the issue of legal vs. social definitions of “adult”. I was hanging out with friends, and my girlfriend (who I was living with) called and asked me to pick up bread and milk on the way home. No problem–when I left my friends’ place at 3 am I went to the local 24 hour store to get them. A cop pulled me over and demanded to know here I was going. I politely informed him I was picking up bread and milk. He refused to believe it until I offered to call my girlfriend to have her confirm it. Bear in mind, I was 21, stone-cold sober, and I’d walked to this store a hundred times at this time of night. If I do it now, with the minivan and the child seats and whatnot, cops don’t even bat an eye.

  39. Donna August 8, 2017 at 5:38 pm #

    “it was unusual to be asked to go anywhere with another family – ”

    I am talking less about inviting another child for a family excursion and more about making plans that involve kids hanging out for which the adults involved are just the drivers and not active participants. For example, Mini-Me has been wanting to go to a water park all summer. I have no desire to spend the day water-sliding, but I would be more than happy to take my kid with some of her friends so that they can slide while I spend the afternoon floating in the lazy river, napping in a beach chair and finishing my book club book (too far of a drive to drop off and pick up so the chauffeur will have to stay). The goal is for her to do something she wants to do, not for us to spend time together as a family. And she will have more fun if she has friends with her.

    By the time I was starting middle school, my activities involved my friends more and more and my parents less and less. And my parents were okay with that. They were more than happy to exchange watching kid movies, going roller skating and riding roller coasters for chauffeur duties that left them out of the action. Often suggesting that if I wanted to go see a particular movie or do a particular activity that I find friends to do it with because they had no interest. The parents of my daughter’s friends seem to have much more of a desire to be part of their kids’ fun forever than my or my friends’ parents ever did. It is the same mentality of having to watch every practice and game lest your child experience something without you.

  40. SKL August 8, 2017 at 7:50 pm #

    Well, I admit to being a little bummed when my kids caught their first fish at camp when I wasn’t there. 🙂 But not too bummed. At least I didn’t have to teach them how to put the worms on the hooks. 😛 It’s been about 40 years and I am not *that* nostalgic about it. 😛

    I do understand the desire to do certain things with the kids. I like to see certain old movies with them and stuff. But I also want them to have lots of experiences without me. It’s a big world out there. 🙂

  41. lollipoplover August 8, 2017 at 9:40 pm #

    “The parents of my daughter’s friends seem to have much more of a desire to be part of their kids’ fun forever than my or my friends’ parents ever did.”

    I totally agree with this statement. And will add, these parents also want to take lots of pictures of the fun to post on social media. I guess you get more parenting points for this?!

    Me? I’m on a lounge chair hiding from the kids. Most of my good friends are like this too thankfully. The helicopters can do their hovercraft thing if they want, but as the kids are getting older, mine seem to gravitate towards friends with parents who don’t stalk their own children.

  42. Donna August 9, 2017 at 8:43 am #

    “I do understand the desire to do certain things with the kids.”

    I do too. I also do things with my kid because we both want to do them all the time. I just don’t understand the need to do EVERYTHING with your kid.

  43. James August 9, 2017 at 9:01 am #

    “I totally agree with this statement. And will add, these parents also want to take lots of pictures of the fun to post on social media. I guess you get more parenting points for this?!”

    I never understood that either. I mean, my dad took a lot of pictures of us–he had the camera out every birthday, on Christmas, on Easter, etc–but today people seem to want to record everything. As I put it to my wife, people seem more interested in having proof they were at some event or did some thing, than they are with actually being at the event or doing the thing!

  44. lollipoplover August 9, 2017 at 10:44 am #


    I think it may have to do with wanting validation that you’re “an awesome mom” and to show off that you spend so much time with your kids. And get *likes*. I hate to say I see it more with moms than dads. I take pictures/posting them on social media with really positive “I love spending time with my kids” nonsense when I know her kid was yelled at for being a turd probably a million times. I don’t really see the need to wreck my phone at a water park to get a blurry picture of my kid getting an atomic wedgie on a slide. And I wouldn’t post that nonsense either.

    Give me a perfect beach day with awesome waves and a good book under an umbrella. I’ll take pictures there but for my own personal memories, not to get any validation. If they are smiling and tired at the end of the day, that’s all I really need (and a good sunset picture, perhaps). I spend a lot of time with my kids. I just don’t feel the need to prove it to anyone.

  45. Donna August 9, 2017 at 1:26 pm #

    lollipoplover – I am not a prolific photographer, but if I do take pictures, I will often post them on social media. Not to say “look how great of a mom I am,” but as an easy way of sharing our lives with our family and family-like friends. My family all lives out of state and we don’t get to visit in person very often. Posting on Facebook is a very convenient way to share things with them.

    I like looking at my family and friends’ pictures on Facebook. I would rather see water park pictures than political commentary and stupid memes.

  46. James August 9, 2017 at 1:46 pm #

    “I am not a prolific photographer, but if I do take pictures, I will often post them on social media. Not to say “look how great of a mom I am,” but as an easy way of sharing our lives with our family and family-like friends.”

    My wife and I do the same. Plus, sometimes you really do want to catch a cute moment.

    I will say, there’s a difference: the person with the camera is OUTSIDE the action. For example: my wife bakes muffins with the kids (boxed cake mix and canned fruit blended to a slurry–really good, and safe for the kids to eat raw). She occasionally lets them stir while taking a video. Or, when we go to Home Depot for their monthly “Build a toy” thing she’ll take pictures/videos of me teaching the kids how to use the tools. In both cases, she’s deliberately positioned herself outside the action and is mostly recording it.

    In contrast, I’ve met people who consider the picture-taking to BE the action. They don’t go to a zoo to see the animals with the kids; they go to the zoo to take photos with the animals. Which is fine in moderation, but deprives them of the experience of being at the zoo. The ones I’ve spoken with barely remember the trip; what they remember is the camera. It’s so bad that many musicians have started asking the audience to not take pictures/videos, not because those videos will inevitably be leaked/pirated, but because they want the fans to actually hear the music.

  47. William Tippins August 10, 2017 at 10:09 am #

    Why don’t families just move to Europe? They systematically care about their kids. We do not, and stop pretending we do. A country that loves its children wouldn’t force them to spend 7+ hours in front of screens, or arrest the parents for giving them independence, or push recess/music/art aside for standardized tests.

    Please, just leave.

  48. James August 10, 2017 at 10:49 am #

    “Why don’t families just move to Europe?”

    Jobs, family, desire to remain in the culture we’re familiar with, etc. One issue is usually not sufficient to drive someone away from an area they consider “home”; we forge innumerable ties to the place we live. Plus, some of us are trying to change the system, and it’s a lot harder to do that when you’re across the Atlantic from the system.

    I disagree with you that we don’t love our children. We do. And that’s the problem–we let our love for our children turn into fear, and that blinds us to the damage we’re doing. The idea that “One is too many”, that no risk is acceptable, stems from love of our children; it’s just that that love has been divorced from rational thought, and is therefore pathological at this point.

    Finally, I strongly dislike the notion that Europe is inherently superior to the USA. I’ve seen a growing belief that all the USA’s problems would be solved if we would just live like Europeans. Trouble is, that doesn’t work. It has been tried–shopping malls were invented specifically to function as squares in European towns, for example. The inventor left the USA in disgust when it became obvious that this would never happen, that Americans simply don’t work that way. Or, take vacation days. Many people say that Americans would be better off if we got more PTO/vacation days, just look at Europeans! But the problem is, Americans don’t seem to WANT more vacation days. We don’t use the ones we have. (Yes, the reasons why are complicated, but the net result is that you can’t simply give us more vacation days and expect our problems to be fixed.) Europe is not Paradise, and denying the realities of the cultural differences between the USA and Europe simply doesn’t work. We need to find solutions that work for us, not adopt solutions that sort of work for someone else.