Are we at a social media crossroad? Is this the time, as business people and as parents, to ask the questions we have been avoiding in the name of making life easier?

We know, at some level, that the future evolves out of the quality of today's thoughts, feelings, and actions.

It's time to stop taking the easy route, especially when it comes to relationships.

Question: How many of you have used some type of technology as a babysitter? I know I have. There were moments when I blessed the phone that kept my daughter chatting intently while my other daughter was deep into some meaningless video game. It could be television, telephone, or social media. Sometimes, just to get a break from the whining  demands of kids it's easier to put them with a device, to get some quiet.

Now what?

A recent Wall Street Journal article pinpoints the dilemma. Nearly 75% of teenagers have access to smart phones, reported in a 2015 study by Pew Research Center. More startling is that these devices are unlocked about 95 times a day, according to research firm Verto Analytics.

It's good for business. Facebook Inc. Alphabet Inc, Snap Inc. all have great bottom lines. They're brilliant at creating captivating experiences. 

Think about it for a moment. For the most part, business tends to monetize human values and lacks a higher purpose. Applying economic logic, businesses make decisions that deeply influence future generations, too often based on the next quarterly financial report.

Making money, staying ethical, raising the next generation, having time to relax, being a good role model, lots of conflicting issues to contend with on a daily basis.

The issues are complex. In the developmental realm, as youngsters grow they need to challenge those who raise them. This is called "individuation." It's an important time to  prepare to fend for oneself.

The interim period, we call the adolescent years, are filled with moving away from parental control and being part of the crowd. Having a smart phone and engaging in social media is today's way for teens to communicate and be accepted.

While the deeper parental yearning is to stay strong and withhold mobile devices, they also don't want to see their children feeling like outcasts.

Why is it so difficult to turn the phone off? To engage in deeper, more substantial ways of relating? I believe that we are in the throes of losing the art of conversation, ways of dialoguing, talking and listening and talking and listening. This is still a vital way gather new methods of thinking about what matters in life. It's about just being together without the shield of the smart phone.

That brings me to Mark Zuckerberg. In recent days he has made some bold statements. Talking about Facebook he said, "Just because a tool can be used for good and bad, that doesn't make the tool bad - it just means you need to understand what the negative is so you can mitigate it."

Even acknowledging there could well be a negative to a product has an impact on the bottom line. So yes, a bold and courageous statement.

Then he asked the question, almost mythic in its simplicity, "What are we really here to do?" This is the very same question every parent of every child on the planet needs to ask.

And his musing about that question also belongs to every business executive and to all involved in the business of parenting "If what we're here to do is help people build relationships, then we need to adjust."

It's time for parents along with educators and psychologists to become strong enough to help today's kids see the positive in being different. It's good to move from being part of the crowd, question rather than just go along to get along, and stand tall for oneself. It's good to change patterns of behavior that may no longer support the present worldview.

It's time for business, the motor of our society, to be strong enough to look at its purpose, as a force to contribute to the well being of many. As Mark Zuckerberg, parent and businessman said,"It's important to me that when Max and August grow up they feel like what their father built was good for the world."

The time for change is now. Be part of the solution. Stay strong. Social media is simply a tool, not a lifestyle.

Published on: Jan 15, 2018
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