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I forbade my daughter from using the iPhone she bought. She made her a better person.

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 I forbade my daughter from using the iPhone she bought. She made her a better person.

The signature of this essay is a pseudonym.

My daughter is one of those girls the surgeon general of the United States warned us about. Our nation’s children are “unconscious participants” in a “decades-long experiment.” The use of social networks poses risks to the mental health of young people, who use them “almost constantly”, causing lack of sleep, depression and anxiety.

Before sixth grade, my daughter saved the money she spent walking dogs to buy a phone. She found a used iPhone 13 Mini on Craigslist. I set expectations to encourage her to get good grades, keep her room clean, and take out her trash. Little did she know that the iPhone would systematically undermine her ability to complete these tasks and many more.

When my daughter walked into class through an inflatable arch on her first day of high school, I took comfort in the fact that I could reach her. Like most parents, she associated the phone with safety, not danger. Little did she know that social media developers were manipulating her next hit, or that her “human future” was being sold to the highest bidder, enriching the richest corporations in human history.

I learned the hard way: through my daughter’s lies, manipulation, and poor grades. Through the scars in the shape of “zebra stripes” drawn on her arms.

Her sixth-grade school photo captures my daughter’s “emo” phase: the feather earring, the Pink Floyd t-shirt, and the crooked smile. The innocence of that image was quickly replaced by the selfie. Peace signs over pursed lips selfie. Selfie with head tilt, half face and full body. The selfie in bed. Her camera roll documents my son’s downward spiral. Crying selfies, swollen-eyed selfies, selfies not being able to leave the bedroom.

For the spring semester, my daughter was performing poorly in school. I took her for a psychiatric evaluation, assuming she had ADHD. The afternoon sun filtered through the faux wood blinds, casting streaks of light onto her ever-present black hoodie. The doctor’s questions began as expected. Trouble concentrating in class? Completing the task? Sleeping? Then the interview took a frightening turn. Do you feel like your life is not worth living? Have you ever hurt yourself? Do you wish you were dead?

I was speechless at my son’s profile, every “yes” lacerating my insides.

The doctor diagnosed my daughter with depression and anxiety. Additional testing showed that getting approval from her friends took up 80% of her attention. No wonder she was failing math. It was a miracle that he passed any of her subjects with only 20% of her brain available for school.

The doctor prescribed therapy and Lexapro. While they were helpful, the doctor did not alert me to widespread trends in phone use among high school students. Since then I learned that my daughter belongs to the first generation of children aged 10 to 14 active on social networks. For these girls, suicide rates have increased by 151% and self-harm by 182%. Her treatment assumed that her struggles were individual, rather than structural. In our country we prescribe medications to solve this social crisis.

Ignorant of these dynamics at the time, I allowed my daughter to continue using social media. One day I received a text from another mom. I stared at the screen, wondering why this mom had sent me a graphic selfie. Then I recognized the mole on the woman’s chest. My son’s mole.

My daughter gasped when I showed her the photo. She handed him her phone. I discovered that she had bypassed the limits of the screen and had been using social media until the wee hours of the morning. She had sent the image to someone named PJ on Snapchat. She claimed to be a 16-year-old boy, but her response was so graphic that I suspected someone older. I realized with fear that the phone was a two-way street, with platforms that adults could use to kidnap and traffic our children.

I called a family meeting with my daughter, her dad, and her stepmom. My daughter would delete her social media accounts and leave her phone until the start of the school year. As the summer months passed with travel, in-person gatherings, and family time, my daughter became herself again. The dark circles under her eyes faded. The sighs, shrugs, and blank stares stopped. She got up in the morning. She laughed. She even let me hug her, sometimes.

It was hard to give him his phone back before seventh grade, but we had a deal. He wanted to reinforce good behavior from him. I made new rules: no social media, no devices in the bedrooms, phones off at 8 pm We charge our phones on the kitchen counter. I bought alarm clocks and sound machines. We support digital detox. My daughter started playing soccer. My insomnia was resolved. We joined a gym and worked out together.

But a few months later my daughter relapsed. Little lies. Big lies. Another text came from a friend’s mom with selfies of our daughters vaping and hanging out with guys she’d never met at the mall. We held another family reunion.

“This may seem crazy,” my daughter’s stepmother said. “But maybe she doesn’t need a phone.”

The words echoed in my mind. How had it never occurred to me? The phone was destroying my daughter, but she couldn’t imagine life without it. I had remained faithful to that idea, to her ideal. I took custody of the phone again.

My daughter threw a tantrum when I told her she lost her phone until middle school. she didn’t want to be that Girl, the only one in class without her phone. But when the tantrum subsided, she began to come to herself. Then, within a few weeks, signs of her addictive behavior began to resurface.

“I found iPhone chargers in the outlets next to his bed, to charge his AirPods,” he said. She threw his body to the floor to prevent him from searching under her bed. One night, while I was in bed reflecting, it hit me. I remembered that my daughter had two The telephones. When I accidentally broke the Mini on a weight machine during our workout, I bought her a new iPhone 13. I took away the 13, but she still got to keep the Mini.

“I sold it to a friend at school,” my daughter said when I asked her the next morning. I couldn’t say who or for how much.

“I’ll find it,” I said with a I see you gesture. I was frantic, but I showed calm confidence, even a little humor, as I searched her backpack and her drawers, searched her pockets, and entered her room unannounced, trying to catch her in the act. My daughter remained calm during my searches. I started to think that she had driven me completely crazy. I bought a metal detector.

Then one night, I walked into his room. My daughter jumped up and shook her duvet. I ran to the bed and ran my hands under the covers. A charging cable! My fingers ran down its length to the attached phone.

We stared at the Mini that lay in my hands. The Snapchat app glowed beneath the cracked screen. She looked at me. Her eyes widened and then filled with tears.

That night, my heartbeat thumped violently against my pillow as I scrolled through social media. Their exchanges were desperate with need. He begged people to respond, especially a boy named Damien. When he didn’t respond, she said she was depressed, texted him and sent him a photo of her tits.

I found answers through my sister in Stolen Focus by Johann Hari, which explores how and why our attention is collapsing: “The phones we have, and the programs that run on them, were deliberately designed by the smartest people in the world to make the most of it and keep our attention at its maximum.” Of course. At such a young age, my daughter was defenseless against this manipulation. She assessed her worth within a system in which she was simultaneously addicted to attention and starved for attention. She had internalized an algorithm in which provocative content wins: “If it’s more irritating, it’s more attractive,” Hari writes.

The social experiment in our house is being replicated in homes across the country. As parents, we want to keep our children safe. We want you to call us if an active shooter comes to campus. But the greatest danger lies inside the phone, not outside yes.

One of the reasons our children are so addicted to their phones is because we are addicted to ours. My friends complain about insomnia, but they can’t imagine leaving their phones outside the bedroom. Addressing my son’s phone use has meant addressing mine. I have to refrain from texting while driving. I stopped running to the charging station every morning to see if I missed any messages.

When she finishes seventh grade, my daughter is that child. Without her phone, she is the girl who dribbles her soccer ball across the living room, skateboards down the street, makes the honor roll, and joins the track team. She is the girl who makes wild gestures with her hands while she chats with her friends, who braids her hair and falls asleep reading a book.

Nowadays, we use my phone together to coordinate meetings, listen to audiobooks, sing her songs and mine: Shakira and Sade, Ice Cube and the Fugees. Last weekend, we drove down the Pacific Coast Highway to visit family. The June darkness hugged the coast as my daughter and I bodysurfed on a crystal clear wave that carried us to shore. “Again!” she said, jumping to her feet. She is addicted to the feeling of water rolling under her belly.

My daughter is not the only daughter. I recently met a woman who confiscated her 11-year-old son’s phone when she discovered she was sexting. Sick middle school kids are building community and paying attention in class now that school is forcing them to put their phones on rubber, a trend that’s spreading quickly. British children are largely learning in “a mobile phone-free environment” since the Department for Education ordered it.

We need both individuals and Systemic changes to check the use of our phone. I’m curious to see where these changes will take us when my daughter enters high school.

Until then, I’ll hold the phone.

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