Are smartphones harming our kids?

I don’t think I know a single parent that doesn’t question the effects screens have on their kids. This article from The Atlantic by Jean Twenge, a Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, focuses on the behavioural effects of smartphones on teenagers and reaches some alarming conclusions.

Professor Twenge researches generational differences, which she says normally unfold very gradually. However she argues some of the changes she’s observed in teenagers since the release of the iPhone in 2007 have been relatively rapid, almost all of which she attributes to social media. It seems they are content to hang out with friends virtually rather than in reality, and this is having a variety of negative consequences, particularly for their mental health.

“The impact of these devices has not been fully appreciated, and goes far beyond the usual concerns about curtailed attention spans. The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household.” 

Some of the stats are thought provoking verging on scary:

  • 12th graders in 2015 were going out less often than 8th graders did as recently as 2009
  • 56% of high school seniors in 2015 went out on dates compared with 85% of Boomers and Gen Xers
  • The number of teens who catch up with their friends almost daily dropped by 40% between 2000 to 2015
  • 8th graders who spend more than 10 hours per week on social media are 56% more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who spend less than that
  • Teens who spend more than three hours per day on screens are 35% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide

It’s not all bad, teen pregnancies are at an all time low and drug and alcohol use is falling.

Professor Twenge is also smart enough to acknowledge that correlation is not causation, but the article provides plenty of food for thought.

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