By Shannon, Tyrell, Katie, and James, members of Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada’s National Youth Council
If, like us, you were born in the last 20 years, chances are you’re reading this on a smartphone and you haven’t looked up recently. In 2016, 76% of Canadians owned a smartphone, and that number is increasing rapidly every year. As youth today, we have lived most of our lives in a world where smartphones are commonplace, and the impact of these devices is just starting to be uncovered. Recent media coverage in outlets ranging from The Atlantic to Chatelaine and Maclean’s has pointed to the toll that these devices can have on youth mental health.
As members of Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada’s National Youth Council, we are responsible for representing youth voices in our communities, and we have seen first-hand the debilitating effect that devices can have on teens’ lives. In a recent article, psychologist Jean Twenge wrote that it “is not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.”
As young people, we need to work together to protect ourselves, and future generations, from the effects that new technologies are having on our mental health. That’s why we called on all Canadians to join us on June 1 to Unplug to Connect by spending one hour away from their devices, engaging with family, friends, and peers face-to-face.
As members of BGCC’s National Youth Council, we were consulted to help shape this Boys and Girls Clubs initiative. We knew that for an event like Unplug to Connect to be successful, we needed to bring our generation’s perspective to the table—and our Club experiences.
At Boys and Girls Clubs, youth spend time away from their phones every day, and we know that’s part of the reason our Clubs foster supportive, lasting relationships—relationships that help young people live happier, healthier lives. And the research agrees: young people who have regular, meaningful interactions with others are more likely to say they’re in better health than those who spend a significant amount of time on social media. When young people are part of a welcoming, cooperative community, they have a reason to put away their phones and interact with those around them.
When you think about the way that most people interact with social media, it’s easy to understand why it can take a major toll on our self-esteem. Social media posts are carefully curated to show only the best aspects of a person’s life. While it’s easy to acknowledge that social media is not a reflection of reality, it can be hard to separate what you see on social media from the rest of your life when you spend so much time looking at your friends and family through the lens of their profiles.
Canadians are spending almost five hours a day on their phones, and the problem isn’t just what they’re looking at, it’s also what they’re looking away from. When you’re on your phone constantly, you can forget what it means to have a genuine interaction with the people around you. You can lose the ability to live in the moment and, even if you’re surrounded by friends, it’s possible to feel completely isolated because you’re not engaging with them in a meaningful way.
It’s not realistic to ask people to throw away their smartphones. However, we can advocate for moderation. Less time on digital media, and more time socializing face-to-face—an activity that is linked to greater happiness.
At our Clubs, kids, youth, and mentors make the most of their time together. On June 1, we proved that when you put your phone down, amazing things can happen.