Oh, we are sinister here at SheKnows. Don’t believe me? As part of Hatch, our initiative to empower kids to use media and technology to create cool, responsible content representing their very unique perspectives on life, we devised a social experiment. We got permission from the parents of a dozen preteens to take away their kids’ phones for a week — and see how they would respond. And then, we dropped the news on the kids. Cue evil laughter. Yeah, we’re awful like that.
At the onset of the group interview, the kids were more than happy to rave about their plugged-in lives. “I do a lot of things with my phone each day,” said Reed. That’s putting it mildly. Most of the kids we interviewed cited a ton of apps they use on the daily, from Snapchat to YouTube to Netflix to Instagram — and they’re also checking texts, of course. Lots and lots of texts.
“I use my phone a lot as a stress relief because there are a lot of things I have going on in my life,” Henry explained.
“I feel like I wouldn’t have any friends if I didn’t have my phone,” Sabine laughed.
When asked how much social media they’re consuming on their phones or laptops, the kids offered up answers that ranged from an hour and 45 minutes to a whopping five hours a day. Gulp. (Not that we adults are any better. Don’t look all high and mighty there. We see you scrolling.)
“How many [of you] think you could go without your phone for one day?” our producer asked the group. Most kids raised their hands, though with some hesitation.
“For one week?” the producer continued. A few more hands dropped and looks of consternation crossed the faces of the group.
“For one month?” Now the worried looks are in full force, poor things — although a few die-hards still kept their hands raised.
Then we dropped the bomb: “We’re going to ask you to give up everything for one whole week.” That’s all social media.
“Nooooo!” Jojo shrieked.
“I’m crying,” howled Henry.
“I don’t like this,” one boy said, looking genuinely traumatized.
A few kids wanted to be clear on parameters. “Like, can we group text, like, two people?” Lily asked. Uh-uh. Nope.
Bad news No. 2: “Your parents have signed off on this. How does that make you feel?” our producer asked. “Betrayed,” “stressed,” and “nervous” were just a few of the responses. In the end, only 10 out of the 12 kids assembled agreed to the experiment. Who would make it through the week?
Good Morning America was pretty stoked about our social experiment, and host Michael Strahan even wants to try it on his kids (sorry, Strahan posse, our bad).
And so the experiment began. By Day 3, the very creative (and hilariously dramatic) Reed was so desperate, she scribbled “death note” on her face and constructed a fake phone. “I need it, I need it, I need it… It only has one app… the app is Grey’s Anatomy,” she said, showing a “scene” she had drawn on the faux device.
Henry was nearly in tears. “Why are you upset?” the producer asked. “Because I logged into my YouTube,” he said. The Force is strong; we get it.
Other Day 3 responses showed technology’s clear perks and pitfalls. “I think the hardest thing about it is not being able to text my friends when I see something funny,” and “Just doing this digital detox is showing me how much I use social media.” So maybe that’s a good thing?
By Day 6 of the #DigitalDetoxChallenge, the kids seemed more adjusted — or resigned — to their fate.
“I feel like the only real problem is Netflix… but I’ve gotten used to not being able to watch it,” said Jack.
“I haven’t cheated this whole week,” Julia claimed proudly. “As the week goes on, it’s been easier for me,” said Sabine, looking pretty chill about the whole thing.
Sure, there were some slip-ups. Instagram, Snapchat and a few errant texts were named as cheat moments. But a few kids said they were seeing real benefits to the experiment. “It’s actually much nicer because when we’re hanging out, we’re not on our phones as much,” Lily explained. Ta-da!
“I usually just sit at home on my phone all day, but I actually went outside,” Evan said, looking surprised. Henry added that he used the mandatory digital-free time for “playing basketball” and “playing tennis.” Wow. Blatant replacement of screen-time with active-time is kind of… even better than we hoped for.
When the group reconvened for a sit-down wrap up of the experiment, the producer asked, “Do you think your mom or dad could handle this challenge?” A resounding, “Nooooo,” erupted from the room.
Would they like to see us try? Oh, hell yeah. Reed said with glee, “I would nominate my mom… so she stops stalking my friends on Instagram.” Valid, kid.
Try not to laugh too hard. We might be coming for your phone next.
A version of this article was originally published in November 2017.