What are your kids doing on their smartphones? What’s more, why do they even have smartphones?

Most parents would like to believe that they can answer these questions, but they probably can’t.

Some parents would try to say that they give their kids phones to keep them safe, to allow for communication between parent and child, when the child is at school, for example. These are valid reasons.

But when it comes down to it, most young people want phones because their peers tell them they should, and most parents give in to their kid’s demands because their kids wouldn’t be “cool” if they didn’t.

And in so doing, parents – aided by our modern Western culture – have overseen the genesis of a “cool” yet meaningless generation.

Today’s young people go through life with prosperity, economic stability and enough technology to be the envy of any previous generation, and yet lack the few things that make life worth living.

They lack meaning and purpose.

But at least they carry supercomputers in their pockets, right?

The West failed this generation when it let young people replace meaning with meaninglessness. And the influx of smartphones into our culture certainly played an important role in that.

Suddenly, upon the advent of the smartphone era, playing outside, participating in sports, reading books, learning trades, making friends, forming bonds with family members and other worthwhile pastimes fell out of style and were replaced with infinitely less meaningful amusements.

Young people became too engrossed in a ceaseless supply of mind-numbing entertainment always at their fingertips to engage in society in a meaningful way.

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It became all too common to see teenagers hunched over their phones, staring at a screen, oblivious to the world around them. As they grew up, their addictions only became stronger, and now, the next generation promises to be even more smartphone-dependent than the last.

According to data from 2019, 53 percent of children own a smartphone by the age of 11. 84 percent of teens own one as well.

16-24-year-olds spend about 3 hours per day on social media – a truly incomprehensible number. 46% say it’s merely “to fill up spare time,” while another 46% say it’s “to find funny or entertaining content.”

Looking to social media to fill up spare time or be entertained may sound innocent enough. The fact that young people are doing so for countless hours, however, is very telling.

When bored, with too much time on their hands, their go-to isn’t to call up an out-of-state relative and catch up. It isn’t to pick up a book and learn something new. It isn’t to work a job, thereby curing the problem of “too much free time.”

It certainly isn’t to memorize a Bible verse or spend time in prayer.

No, it isn’t any of these things. Instead, their go-to, time and time again, is to open their favorite app and watch stupid videos or – particularly for teenage girls – compare their lives to the indefectible lives of others.

The problem, therefore, is not necessarily smartphones themselves (untold millions have phones and suffer minimal lack of meaning for it) but what young people are doing on their phones.

How many young people spend more time watching TikToks than reading their Bibles? How many know more about the latest social media trends than Judeo/Christian doctrine or basic American history?

How many have never read the United States Constitution, haven’t cracked the cover of a Jane Austen novel or delved the depths of Shakespearian drama, and yet have an unlimited amount of time to follow the lives of perfect strangers on Instagram?

When it becomes culturally acceptable for young people to meaninglessly waste away their lives, we shouldn’t be surprised when young people begin to believe that their lives are meaningless.

A poll from 2019, revealed that “89 per cent of 16- to 29-year-olds [in the United Kingdom] believe that their lives have no meaning or purpose.”

Of course, this tragic number can’t be attributed entirely to smartphones, but one can only wonder how much more fulfilled these people would be if only they’d put away their phones and do something that actually mattered.

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Some of the happiest, most fulfilled people in this world are older people who never afforded themselves the luxury of “too much free time” for empty nothingness.

From a young age, these people were often working laboriously, not to spend money on themselves, but to support their families. They then started their own families, often at a young age (although they were notably more mature than young people today). Many committed themselves to a church community and of course to God.

These people may have gone through life with less prosperity, less economic stability and certainly less technology than today’s generation, but they did have the few things that actually make life worth living.

They could look back on their lives and be proud of the countless hours they spent supporting their loved ones, proud of each and every hard day’s work, proud of the time devoted to faith and family.

Will young people look back and be proud of the countless hours they spent witlessly watching video after video on YouTube, eyes glued to social media, lost in the fictional world of some video game?

These things are not inherently wrong. But, in the grand scheme of things, they do not matter and they can not replace meaning in one’s life.

If parents must choose between the two – between giving their young children smartphones and social media or meaning and purpose – the choice should be obvious.

They may not be as “cool” as everyone else. But at least they’ll be free to live a life they can be proud of.

Jakob Fay is a former SIA Coordinator and current writer for the Convention of States Project, a project of Citizens for Self-Governance

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