The Working Waterfront

An antidote to anxiety?

Keeping kids off phones easier on island

By Courtney Naliboff
Posted 2024-05-13
Last Modified 2024-05-13

Getting ready for work this morning, I heard an interview that stopped me in my tracks. Author Jonathan Haidt was speaking about his new book, The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewriting of Childhood is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness. In it, he outlines the connection between the increase in online socializing and the dramatic increase in anxiety that’s been well-documented in kids in the last decade or so.

I’ve been a teacher for 19 years, all on North Haven, and I’ve seen this in action. As students live more and more of their lives online, they become more reticent to try new things, more fearful of failure, and less inclined to physically venture outside their comfort zone.

In essence, they became islands on an island, isolated not only geographically but socially, despite the illusion of connection provided by their devices. Even adults can easily succumb to the FOMO (fear of missing out) of seeing Instagram posts about a social event they weren’t invited to or come to believe that a post on the North Haven Facebook page complaining about something or other is the same as submitting correspondence to the select board.

In essence, they became islands on an island, isolated not only geographically but socially…

While I was a late smart phone adopter, I do have one, and am online a lot. I have social media accounts and use them for connecting with friends and promoting my music and writing.

I don’t think there’s anything inherently malevolent about the technology. But the point Haidt makes, and one that I wholeheartedly agree with, is that they aren’t a replacement for literally and figuratively messy interpersonal play and socialization. Luckily, we on North Haven are uniquely able to offer that to our kids and ourselves.

While in some communities parents have grown fearful of letting their children play outdoors alone, whether it’s because it is genuinely unsafe or because they worry about the potential legal ramifications of doing so, North Haven actively encourages it. There were many weekends this winter when Pen got a call from friends inviting her downtown to play capture the flag, and I was only too happy to drop her off and go about my business until she called for a ride from someone’s house or the community center.

Groups of kids gather to play basketball at the town court, work on their maple sap lines, or ice skate at the rink in the short window where we have good ice. Some kids ran a booming mackerel business this fall, catching, cleaning, and selling the striped beauties with great enthusiasm and no adults involved.

Ice fishing and skating on Fresh Pond, with adults present, was a great substitute this winter. For more organized activities, Pen can sail, play tennis, hike, and camp with the Outing Club, play music with her friends, or just get together and do each other’s hair and makeup.

Check back in a few years, but I fully intend to keep Pen phoneless and without social media accounts until she graduates from high school, or at least to magically conjure a phone from 2003 that can only call and text. There’s just too much to do here to spend her adolescence online—and for that, I’m grateful.

Courtney Naliboff lives on North Haven where she teaches writing, theater, and music and plays in the band Bait Bag. She may be contacted at