Wednesday, November 29, 2023


This should be the summer you save your grandkids from their cell phones

Let me first admit to a universal truth for most men. We don’t understand a single thing about teenage girls.

I didn’t have a clue when I dated them in high school. I felt like a fish out of water when I had a daughter of my own. And I don’t feel one iota smarter now that I’m in my 60s.

Those old feelings of total confusion came back home to roost recently when my wife and I hosted our three teenage nieces for two weeks. Oh, I was ready for the rolling eyes and battles to get them out of bed. That all seemed very familiar. But I was struck by what I think is a newer – and troubling – phenomenon that I don’t think I’d witnessed in my earlier tussles with young lasses.

While we were busy showing them some of the most wonderful of natural sites, flora, and fauna the U.S. has to offer, their noses were firmly buried in their iPhones. Most times, that was coupled with earbuds, so they were completely shut out of our best efforts at conversation.

I know. Teens and their fixations with their electronics isn’t that new of a thing. But what did seem new was their “lack of excitement” to things that I would have thought would have stirred them with wonder.

For example, while at a Pacific beach that was chock-full of lounging giant green sea turtles, they managed to turn their phones around, take the obligatory photo for their Instagram page, and utter a brief “That’s cute,” before plugging their buds back in and continuing to watch YouTube or Snapchat or voraciously text with their friends back home. I don’t think they’d have been that impressed if one of the turtles had stuck up its head and asked for the time. (I went to look and, yes, there are numerous videos already on YouTube of talking turtles. So, they’ve likely already seen that phenomenon in “real life.”)

Ocean sunsets that bring tears to the eyes of us older folks barely elicit a response at all from our visiting wired youths. After all, they’d actually have to go outside to see the splendor, and it happens every evening anyway, right?

These stats are scary

Am I overreacting to the desensitizing of our teens? Take a look at these stats on teen social media use from the Pew Research Center and draw your own conclusions.

  • 92 percent of teens go online daily, and 24 percent say they go online “almost constantly.”
  • 76 percent of teens use social media (81% of older teens, 68 percent of teens aged 13 to 14).
  • 71 percent of teens use Facebook, 52 percent use Instagram, 41 percent use Snapchat, 33 percent use Twitter, and 14 percent use Tumblr. (If you only know about the first two, you were born before JFK was shot).
  • 77 percent of parents say they feel their teens get distracted by their devices and don’t pay attention when they are together. (That is the observation that originally got me thinking.)
  • 59 percent of parents say they feel their teen is addicted to their mobile device.
  • 50 percent of teens admit that they feel addicted to their mobile device.

Here’s why the Grandparent Generation should be concerned for these kids:

Research increasingly shows that this addiction to social media is a gateway to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Kids who already feel isolated and unhappy are particularly vulnerable. Teens and social media addiction are a very unfortunate match.

A recent CNN study on 13-year-olds and their relationship with social media (#Being13) found that 13-year-olds who checked their networking sites 50 to 100 times a day were 37 percent more distressed than those who checked it just a few times.

So, what’s a grandparent to do?

Your options aren’t completely limited. First, recognize that your own kids – likely now at least in their 30s and the parents of your teen grandkids – have also been tainted by social media and may have their own problems with it.

Yet RVing grandparents have a tool most “grounded” grandmas and grandpas don’t. You have a house on wheels, and you can volunteer to take the grandkids for an extended trip. This is your chance to help them detox from their devices.

The secret here is to not be draconian about your methods. Recognize that social media addiction is just like any other. Taking devices away and making them stop “cold turkey” will only cause extra resentment and many more of those eye rolls I mentioned earlier. Instead, apply steady encouragement to set the electronics aside and experience the wonders around them. Expect there to be a lot of resistance. This is going to take every moment of the time you have with them to have any effect.

A great tool is to take your RV to remote areas where you know Wi-Fi and cell service will be sketchy. Hey, it’s not your fault that their YouTube just sits there and buffers. This is one instance where finding a campground with no Wi-Fi is a huge plus.

The real trick is to observe how your grandkids are using social media and be aware that a problem is likely to exist already. At best, there is an issue with it where you can help.

Be open with the grandkid’s parents. They likely know the addiction exists but have long ago given up the effort in exchange for the peace that comes with teens using earbuds.

Who knows? You might actually see the light of wonder come back into your grandkid’s eyes during your RV excursion. At the very least, they’ll (eventually) remember the time that Grandma and Grandpa took them on that trip and actually made a sincere effort to connect. Breaking the cycle of social media addiction is worth your time.


I’ve included links to a few more articles on the subject below. I’d also love to hear what more of you have to say about your own encounters with teens and their electronics, especially those special tricks you’d like to pass along to the rest of us. Please leave a comment below.


Mike Gast
Mike Gast
Mike Gast was the vice president of Communications for Kampgrounds of America Inc. for 20 years before retiring in 2021. He also enjoyed a long newspaper career, working as a writer and editor at newspapers in North Dakota, South Dakota, Oregon, and Montana. He and his wife, Lori Lyon, now own and operate the Imi Ola Group marketing company, focusing on the outdoor industry.



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Scott (@guest_135337)
2 years ago

There is a series on Netflix called Black Mirror. Watch the episode starring Bryce Dallas Howard. It will blow your mind with the possibilities of where our society is going with these devices. It is truly eye opening, and scary.

Jesse Crouse (@guest_135211)
2 years ago

You are not their buddy, friend, pal. You are their “Parent”. And your job is to raise socially well adjusted and productive members of this society. I was raised by two Dutch, German, Scotch, English depression era people who knew when to instruct my sister and myself how the world worked. Not abused, but loved enough to care how we turned out as people and how we we interacted with others. It is a different world today, but the basics still matter.

George J Herberger (@guest_135196)
2 years ago

Before I retired I would provide sessions to the Park & Recreation field on the subject of “Nature Deficit Disorder” based on the writings of Richard Louv & Jean Piaget. If you can, watch the movie “The Last Child in the Woods”. It’s very enlightening.

Kasey (@guest_135173)
2 years ago

Not sure where my earlier comment went, but the gist was that I have loved ones in the 65+ category that look at their phones and Facebook almost constantly, honestly more than my teenage son uses his phone. Social media is very addictive, it is so scary and sad. People in all demographics could benefit from some hard self-reflection on where their time is spent, that’s for sure.

RV Staff
2 years ago
Reply to  Kasey

I’m not sure where your earlier comment went either, Kasey. Out of curiosity I tried to find it. The last comment from you, before this one, was received on July 19 about fenced campsites for dogs. I looked in Trash and in Spam, and your comment wasn’t there either. So you must have hit the wrong button when you thought you were posting it. Sorry. Have a good afternoon. 🙂 –Diane

Kasey (@guest_135204)
2 years ago
Reply to  RV Staff

Thanks Diane, it was probably me… wouldn’t be the first time I clicked the wrong button 🙃 Appreciate you checking for me!

RV Staff
2 years ago
Reply to  Kasey

You’re welcome, Kasey! Have a good night. 🙂 –Diane

Jerry B (@guest_135165)
2 years ago

We went thru the same scenario with 2 sets of grandkids and I vowed to never take them along again. Fast fwd to now that they’re 18, 20 it’s a different world. They can’t wait to go along and they’re actually fun to bring. Maybe there’s hope. Maybe.

Dennis G. (@guest_135145)
2 years ago

Our 14 year old was the same on our last camping trip. Even though he picked the destination – Yellowstone. Instead of looking out the window as we drove, he would be on his iPhone. And when the cell signal dropped out he would sleep.
The only time he was animated was during dinner and game time, in the evening.

Richard (@guest_135122)
2 years ago

Parents need to parent. Be in charge. Quit letting your kids run the show. Don’t worry about being “Friends” with your kids. All the Mumbo Jumbo coming from “Experts” is designed to make them money. Take command and raise your kids. You owe it to them, and society.

bisonwings (@guest_135119)
2 years ago

If you’re familiar with addictions you know that addicts can’t taper back. It’s either they quit altogether or they’re right back just as hooked as before or even worse. It also doesn’t help that every high tech company in the world is working overtime to expand and ensure that that addiction grows.
I shudder to think what the next generation will be like. Will it be implants that connect them and transmit visual and audio so hands are free to lay idle? The world’s giant corporations are working tirelessly mining our data and generating algorithms to make us crave the products that they manufacture. I fear it’s through those process that our grandchildren and they’re children will become enslaved.

Chris (@guest_135115)
2 years ago

Where was the “Pacific beach that was chock-full of lounging giant green sea turtles”? We would love to go there!

Kamwick (@guest_135110)
2 years ago

Yes, this is sad and concerning. There’s a reason that Silicon Valley executives have spoken seriously about electronic addiction, limit their own kids’ access, and that phones now have the option to alert you as to how much time you’re spending on a device.

The idea of the ‘no wifi’ campground is awesome! That’s the ticket. Also, talk to their parents before taking them and set up some simple ground rules: no devices during meals or hikes, except to take pictures. The rest of the time, text away. Maybe text them websites of where you’re going prior to the hike/trip.

Sue (@guest_135106)
2 years ago

My husband and I are both in our early 70s . . . and are also in those first three statistics (online quite a bit every day, on social media, FB, IG). 😉 Not addicted, but on our screens quite a bit because we’re retired and haven’t been traveling since the pandemic began. We never missed an opportunity when RVing around the continent pre-pandemic to enjoy nature and the views while camping, running, and hiking in beautiful remote areas with little or no cell service. From my observations, screen addiction is noticeable at every stage of life.

Glenn (@guest_135072)
2 years ago

I would suggest watching the movie “The Social Dilemma.” It is a very well done documentary that describes how we got to where we are now with social media. You can find it on Netfix.

Asma (@guest_135135)
2 years ago
Reply to  Glenn

Can’t agree more!!! It’s an excellent movie!! I highly recommend everyone to watch it to better understand what’s happening.

Wally (@guest_135070)
2 years ago

We have Sunday dinner every week at our house and cell phone use is forbidden, even for our grown sons. Conversation is expected and this includes our grandchildren who range from 23 to 3.

We helped raise our now 12YO granddaughter up to age 5 and limited her to an hour a day screen time. She got to pick between computer, tablet or phone, but total time was an hour a day.

People of any age buried in cell phones do not learn how to communicate, read body language, learn about subtle facial expressions or use their imagination, and that may contribute to todays’ society where people are only interested in their point of view and not willing to listen to any other.

Darla K Baker (@guest_135058)
2 years ago

It’s not just teenagers. Both my wife and my sister are looking down at their phone while breathtaking views pass them by. And they are both over 50.

Steve (@guest_135041)
2 years ago

Get a jammer and secretely turn it on from time to time.

Susan Banks (@guest_135022)
2 years ago

Just got back from a week with 3 gkids, age 5, and twins just turned 11. What cell phones? The twins had them, never touched them. We swam, checked out the huge campground, played uno without tears, and double deck war. We walked and told stories of when they were young! So funny. I love camping with gkids.

Mike Albert (@guest_135059)
2 years ago
Reply to  Susan Banks

Wait until they turn 13-15!
Buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Been there, done that.

tom (@guest_135021)
2 years ago

They are “glued” to their toys.

WEB (@guest_135012)
2 years ago

I would like to tell the grandkid’s parent (our son) on the constant cell phone use I see, but he is busy looking into his own cellphone. :-/

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