My inbox has been inundated with reports that our teens are literally dying because of excessive cell phone use. From an editorial in the Lancet to my local radio station, the news is alarming. In many cases, I’m told, our children are on their phones eight or more hours a day, with experts saying it should be limited to just two.
Jean Twenge’s new book iGen has been front and center, insisting that we do something and do it quickly. Kids are using their cell phones way too much and putting their mental health at terrible risk. National surveys are showing that kids today are more anxious than ever before, with spiking rates of depression and suicide.
Twenge suspects that this uptick in problems (which every mental health professional knows is happening) occurred at just about the same time as cell phones became a common accessory for most teens. Correlation doesn’t imply causation, but in this case, one has to wonder if the very real increase in emergency room visits for mood disorders and self-reported anxiety among teens isn’t a byproduct of more accessible technology that both connects and isolates at the same time.
There is definitely something addictive about the ping of a text and the scrolling counter telling us how much others “like” us. It’s made us all (children and adults) into gamblers, sitting in our bedrooms just like slots players sit in windowless casinos, forgetting the time of day, addicted to the next spin and the possibilities it brings.
There’s more bad news too. Seems that with all that online addiction is also coming more bullying, which is only fueling kids’ anxiety. A recent article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal by a group of researchers based mostly in Quebec, Canada, found that among a large sample of teens, 59% reported moderate exposure to bullying, and 14% reported chronically high exposure to bullying, both in-person and online. That’s not a trend or a disease. At those rates, children’s experiences of bullying are almost as common as high school graduation.
If all of this has made you depressed as a parent, it’s time to think about what you (and others) can do to put the brakes on this spiraling chaos.
Here’s A Few Solutions That Have Made Recent Headlines.
First, start with the corporations.
They have to provide us with the tools as families so that if we want to, we can limit our children’s (and our own) access to our cell phones. I’ve been reading a lot about the California State Teachers’ Retirement System that is huge investor in Apple and their petition to force the company to do something to protect kids from the potential harms of overuse.
I applaud this initiative but only up to a point. I’m sure smartphone producers could find a way to build into their operating systems a simple password that anyone (even teens themselves) could type in that would lock the phone after a set number of hours each day, except for incoming and outgoing texts/calls with caregivers. It could help prevent cell phones from peddling “likes”, the online equivalent of crack.
The problem with such a solution is that it won’t work. Young people will simply migrate to new platforms and new devices to communicate. Hackers will find ways to unlock locks. Bullies will keep on bullying. Corporate social responsibility can only ever be one tool among many.
Second, let’s talk about our communities.
If you look for good news about kids these days, we can find it, but we likely have to look beyond North American suburbs. There is, for example, the success Iceland has experienced in tackling worrying trends among teens with regard to delinquency, drugs, and alcohol abuse.