According to an article by two psychologists studying the effect of cell phones and social networks on life in young people, published in The New York Times, a lot of attention should be paid to the mental health of students, so They recommend some basic measures to avoid exposing them to the influence of the devices.
Professionals suggest taking action to help teens avoid falling into the statistics for depression, loneliness, self-harm and suicide rates, which began to rise dramatically in the United States, just before the pandemic.
An important step is to give children a long period each day where they are not distracted by their devices: the school day. Cell phones can be useful to get to and from school, but they should be out of reach during the school day so that students can practice the lost art of paying full attention to the people around them, including their teachers.
A second important step is to delay the age at which they begin to use social networks; Ideally, keep them out of elementary and middle schools altogether. Nowadays, many 10 and 11 year olds simply lie about their age to open accounts and when they do so, other children do not want to be left behind, so they feel pressure to use the networks as well.
At a minimum, platforms should be legally responsible for enforcing their stated minimum age of 13. Since social media platforms have not used consistent detection methods, they should be required to implement age and identity verification for all new accounts, as many other industries have done. Verified users could continue to post under pseudonyms, and verification could be done by trusted third parties instead of platforms.
As professionals Jonathan Haidt and Jean M. Twenge explain, “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, adolescents felt increasingly lonely at school. The rapid transition to smartphone-mediated social life around 2012 is, as we have shown, the prime suspect. Now, after nearly eighteen months of social distancing, fear of contagion, parenting anxiety, distance schooling, and increased dependence on devices, will students spontaneously put away their cell phones and go back to socializing in person at the same time? old fashioned, at least during the hours you are together at school? We have a historic opportunity to help them do it. “
“When we started to see these trends in our work as psychologists studying Gen Z (people born after 1996), we were stumped. The US economy was steadily improving during those years, so this situation could not be attributed to the economic woes resulting from the Great Recession of 2008. It was difficult to think of any other national event in the early 2010s that impacted on the next ten years ”.
We both came to suspect the same thing: cell phones in general and social networks in particular. Jean found that 2012 was the first year most Americans owned a smartphone; in 2015, two-thirds of teens also had one. That was also the period when the use of social media went from being optional to being ubiquitous among teens.
Jonathan discovered, while writing an essay with technologist Tobias Rose-Stockwell, that the major social media platforms changed at a profound level from 2009 to 2012. In 2009, Facebook added the “like” button, Twitter added the button. “Retweet” and, in the following years, user accounts became algorithms based on “interaction”, which essentially refers to the ability of a post to provoke emotions.
In 2012, as we all now know, the major platforms had created an outrage machine that made life online that much more unpleasant, faster, more polarized, and more likely to incite performative humiliation. Furthermore, as Instagram became more popular over the next decade, it had particularly strong effects on girls and young women, as the network invited them to “compare and despair” while looking at the posts of friends and strangers whose faces, bodies and Lives had been edited over and over again until many were closer to perfection than reality.
For many years, some experts have argued that cell phones and social media harm teens, while others have dismissed those concerns as another moral panic, no different from those that accompanied the advent of video games, television, and even comics. . One of the compelling arguments put forward by skeptics is this: the cell phone was adopted in many countries around the world around the same time, so why aren’t teens in all those countries experiencing more mental health problems? like Americans? Where is the evidence?
That is a difficult question to answer because there is no global survey on adolescent mental health with data prior to 2012 and continuing to the present. However, there is something similar. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) has surveyed 15-year-olds in dozens of countries every three years since 2000. In all but two editions, the survey included six questions about loneliness at school. Loneliness is not the same as depression, but they are correlated: lonely teens are often depressed teens, and vice versa. Also, loneliness is painful even without depression.
So what does the PISA survey show? In an article we just published in The Journal of Adolescence, we reported that in 36 out of 37 countries, loneliness in school has increased since 2012. We grouped the 37 countries into four geographic and cultural regions, and found the same pattern in all regions: adolescent loneliness remained relatively stable between 2000 and 2012, with less than 18 percent reporting high levels of loneliness. However, in the six years after 2012, the rates increased dramatically. They practically doubled in Europe, Latin America, and English-speaking countries, and increased by around 50 percent in East Asian countries.
This global synchronized increase in adolescent loneliness suggests a global cause, and the time coincides to attribute this situation to smartphones and social networks as the main causes. But couldn’t it just be a coincidence? To test our hypothesis, we looked for data on many global trends that could influence adolescent loneliness, such as declining family sizes, changes in GDP, rising income inequality, and rising unemployment. , as well as the increase in access to cell phones and hours of Internet use. The results were clear: only access to smartphones and internet use increased at the same time as teenage loneliness. The other factors were unrelated or inversely correlated.
These analyzes do not show that cell phones and social networks are the main causes of the increase in loneliness among adolescents, but they do show that other causes are less plausible. If anyone has another explanation for the global increase in loneliness at school, we’d love to hear it.
We conducted an extensive review of published research on social media and mental health, and we found a major limitation: almost all research, including our own, looks for the effects of use on users. The most common scientific question has been: Do adolescents who spend a lot of time on social media have worse health outcomes than those who use it little? The answer is yes, especially in the case of girls.
However, we believe that this framework is inappropriate because smartphones and social media affect not only individuals, but groups as well. The smartphone has sparked a planetary rethinking of human interaction. As cell phones became common, they transformed peer relationships, family relationships, and the texture of everyday life for everyone, even those without a phone or Instagram account. It’s more difficult to strike up a casual conversation in the cafeteria or after class when everyone is looking at their phones. It’s more difficult to have a deep conversation when each party is randomly interrupted by buzzing and vibrating “notifications”. As Sherry Turkle wrote in her book Reclaiming Conversation, life with smartphones means that “we are always elsewhere.”
A year before the COVID-19 pandemic began, a Canadian university student sent us an email illustrating how cell phones have changed the social dynamics in schools.
“Gen Z is an incredibly isolated group of people,” he wrote. “We have superficial friendships and superfluous romantic relationships that are largely mediated and governed by social media.” He then reflected on the difficulty of talking to his peers:
There is hardly a sense of community on campus, and it is not hard to see why. I often arrive early for a conference and find a room of more than 30 students sitting together in complete silence, absorbed in their cell phones, afraid to speak and be heard by their peers. That leads to further isolation and a weakening of identity and self-confidence, something I know because I’ve experienced it.
All young mammals play, especially those that live in groups, such as dogs, chimpanzees, and humans. All of these mammals need tens of thousands of social interactions to become socially competent adults. In 2012 it was possible to believe that teenagers would get those interactions through their smartphones, perhaps many more. But as data accumulates that his mental health has worsened since 2012, it now appears that electronically mediated social interactions are like empty calories. Just imagine what teenage health would look like today if we had eliminated 50 percent of the most nutritious foods from their diets in 2012 and replaced those calories with sugar.
So what can we do? We can’t go back to the pre-smartphone era, nor would we want to, given the many benefits of technology. However, we can take some reasonable steps to help teens get more than they need.