OUR SAY: Set the example and put down your phone

HAS there been a more difficult time to be a parent - or a child, for that matter?

It seems that throughout the history of mankind any great advance in technology has been accompanied by a great – and often unforeseen – threat.

Today it is mobile devices such as smartphones and iPads that are blurring the lines between technological breakthrough and threat to society.

Today’s teens, and younger, have embraced their digital devices and the consumption of social media with a passion verging on addiction.

And parents are caught in the middle.

Research by the Commonwealth eSafety Commissioner has revealed more than a third of children aged between eight and 13 are on social media. For teens, it is more than 80 per cent.

A recent US study found young adults use their smartphones more than 80 times each day and the warnings from the experts are proliferating.

Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg told Australian media just recently that smartphones were distracting students from reading, school-related work and exercise, as well as messing up their sleep.

At the same time, though, representatives of the Central West branch of the Teachers Federation conceded banning smartphones from schools would be difficult.

Meanwhile, psychologists argue smartphones are making it harder for us to relate to each other, or to be truly alone. These effects will be greater for a generation that has never known life without these devices.

So what can we do? No-one has the definitive answer but at the very least we must remain calm.

After all, the potential benefits of the digital world for young people are virtually limitless. At the cutting edge, the use of ‘‘edtech’’ in schools can empower children to learn at their own speed and undermine the ‘‘factory model’’ of education, where children of the same age all learn in the same way.

And for a creative-minded teenager, the resources made available by digital technology will be transformative in ways we could not have imagined, even 15 years ago.

So it is about managing risks.

While teachers, experts and legislators all have a role to play in that, the role of parents is paramount. And if we really want kids and teens to develop the discipline to decouple from their phones, we should lead by example.