Are Smart Phones Negatively Impacting on Young People’s Mental Health?

By Sandra Quinn

For the past quarter of a century, Dr. Jean Twenge has been conducting research into generational differences and the impact that technology is having on society’s young people.

Her findings have been both terrifying and worrying, as she has revealed that an increase in mobile phone use has caused a surge in the number of suicides among teenagers.

Dr. Twenge’s research reached a peak in 2011-12 when iPhones were owned by 50% of young people and this is when the statistics get really horrifying.

According to the research from Dr. Twenge and figures from Occupational Therapist and writer with yourot.com, Victoria Prooday;

  • There has been a 37% increase in teen depression.
  • There has been a 200% increase in suicide rates in children aged between 10 and 14.
  • We have seen a 43% increase in ADHD.
  • One in five children has a mental health problem.

In line with the increased use of the iPhone (this iGen study specifically looked at Apple’s iPhone, as opposed to other smart phone brands), research showed that children were being deprived of some of the fundamental elements of parenting and growing up, which adults nowadays would have taken for granted as they grew up.

Some of the worrying findings include the following, which children have experience of in their homes;

  • Parents distracted by digital devices and who are emotionally unavailable.
  • Parents indulging children and allowing them to do what they want, in the belief that they are older or more mature than they really are.
  • Giving children a sense of entitlement, rather than instilling a sense of responsibility in them.
  • Not getting enough sleep and having an unbalanced diet.
  • Leading a sedentary lifestyle and not going outside to play as much as children of previous generations.
  • Using television, smart phones and tablets as a form of tech babysitter and a world where endless stimulation is available and boredom is something they never truly experience.

When this writer was growing up (she is now 30), being bored was part and parcel of growing up. It was like a rite of passage – something you had to go through to earn the progression into adulthood.

Without ever being bored, how does a child learn how to develop initiative, innovation, imagination or creativity?

If they are constantly being entertained and pandered to, they are never hearing the words ‘No’, ‘You can’t have that’ or ‘Entertain Yourself’. These are not just words, they are formative phrases, which turn children into adults and teach people how to function in a world in which ‘Yes’ isn’t always the answer.

While the research is truly terrifying, you might now ask what you can do to combat these figures and stand up in the fight against youth suicide and depression.

In a wonderful blog, available on yourmodernfamily.com, the writer gives some stellar advice, some of which I have included below;

  • Dedicate blocks of time to the family, to talking to each other, putting away the phones and taking technology out of the equation.
  • Talk to your children – not on Snapchat, social media or via instant messaging apps – talk to them face-to-face and in a quiet room or car without any distractions.
  • Give your children little jobs to do around the house to teach them work ethics and the reality of what a working life in the future might hold. I don’t mean getting them to do big jobs, but get into a routine every morning of getting them to do small things like dressing their bed, folding their pyjamas, and opening their windows and curtains.
  • As the parent, put your own phone, tablet and computer away and keep them off limits while your children are at home and set this as a pattern at home, because if you are on your phone then you can’t tell your children that their phone is out of bounds.