Kids, smartphones and our awesome adventures

Kids, smartphones and our awesome adventures

Carl Marcy, MD, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says he is deeply concerned about children embracing screens: “We are rewiring a generation of humans in an uncontrolled experiment with technology that has dire consequences. And we need to stop. “.

A few years ago, Marcy was lecturing college students about his work on how screens affect our brains. He could tell they were paying attention – largely because they weren’t listening on their phones.

Then he asked, “How many people here think they have an unhealthy relationship with their phones?” Every hand rose. And I was like, ‘Okay, everyone? So what is going on there? And many people were like: ‘No one told us. Nobody said, be careful! And they’re crazy.”

a recent study From the Pew Research Center confirms the degree to which phones have taken over the lives of teens. About half of the teens reported being online “almost always,” with girls slightly more likely to be online, while Hispanic teens were 50 percent more likely than their white peers.

Marcy, author of “Rewired: Protecting Your Brain in the Digital Age,” points out that our smartphone experience has been going on for about 15 years — the iPhone was introduced in 2007 — and there’s no excuse to ignore the lessons those years have taught us. We have increased rates of “depression, anxiety, ADHD, substance abuse and suicide. … We are more distracted, divided and depressed.”

Last year, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy expressed his deep concern about the mental health of young people, noting that Between 2009 and 2019, there was a 40 percent rise in the number of high school students who said they experienced “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.” Murthy argued that technology “can pit us against one another, reinforce negative behaviors such as bullying and exclusion, and undermine the safe and supportive environments that young people need and deserve.”

The NIH study began in 2018 It found that children who spent more than two hours per day of their free time on devices performed worse on tests of thinking, language, and memory than children who spent less time on devices. and use his hardware I jumped over the past few years. In 2015, about 40 percent of 12-year-olds had their own phone. Now more than 70 percent do.

Marcy fears that long-term phone use will alter children’s brains, particularly the prefrontal cortex, which — among other things — helps us control impulses and make good decisions.

Until our mid-twenties, the prefrontal cortex is still developing, and multitasking (a huge part of what we do with our phones) puts an enormous strain on the prefrontal cortex. In fact, study after study has shown that both children and adults are bad at multitasking.

Michael Rich, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital who focuses on children and the media, says frankly that “our human brain only thinks about one channel at a time. Switching tasks, which we actually do, is a horrible way to do anything.”

But if you’re a teenager longing to grab a phone, the neuroscience facts might not matter. And even those of us with a fully developed prefrontal cortex struggle hard to turn our phones off.

It is by design. Much like slot machines, email and social media apps offer spotty bonuses. Sometimes you get a message from someone you really love, from your boss, or from your enemies. But not often.

Of course, the feeling of victory when you get one of those precious messages is fleeting. And just like in the casino, the house always wins in the long run.

“The overarching goal of companies that create interactive digital experiences, particularly online games and video, is to foster behavior that keeps users coming back,” Marcy wrote in Rewired.

And he sees kids losing massive amounts of sleep, because having a phone available all night is an almost irresistible temptation. “I tell parents, if there was only one rule, if you were only going to make one recommendation, it would be: Take the phone away at least an hour before bedtime.”

At Children’s Hospital, where Rich runs the Interactive Media and Internet Disorders Clinic, he sees families getting phones for kids at an early age. And quite frankly, wireless companies are always trying to expand their market. And so they go deeper into childhood.” Rich believes that companies are also trying to convince parents that phones provide children with a measure of safety.

But for Marcy, our community-wide experience with babies and screens isn’t safe. Wanting to get back on Twitter, TikTok, or YouTube has turned phones, he says, into “mood regulators,” ways to deal with boredom, anger or anxiety. “And the really insidious thing is that the earlier I start doing it, the more dependent I am. Like, I’m really struggling with my 9-year-old. … Just go play the piano, go and run outside. Do anything but cool off. yourself using YouTube. Because I can feel it — I can see he’s drawn to her.”

Lawmakers can sense the scale of parental anxiety. Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey is a co-sponsor of Children’s LawIt aims to tackle youth overuse – and abuse – of online platforms. “The handful of powerful online platforms where children and teens spend most of their time online are inherently harmful to them,” Markey wrote.

So, in a world full of phones, what should parents do?

Both Marcy and Rich insist that not all children are the same, and that specifying the exact age at which each child should have a phone does not make sense. Marcy offers a combination: “I think the answer is 14 to 16. I’d say 18, but that’s not going to happen, right?”

Rich generally agrees that high school is a good time to introduce phones, although he realizes how difficult it can be to be the only kid in middle school without a phone.

Both doctors note that foldable phones are a good place to start — kids can text and make calls, but they can’t use the phone for games, videos, or social media.

It is very important for parents to be good role models. “Our use of the devices is what they will mimic,” Rich says. “Dad’s double standards on his phone at dinner answering emails and yelling at the kid for playing video games, that’s just kid hypocrisy.”

Rich argues that parents should think of phones as gadgets. They should ask their children why they need the phone, and what purpose this phone will serve. You won’t get your child a power saw – a different kind of power tool – without making sure they know what to do with it.

The truth is, kids already understand the impact of phones. Most teens who told Pew that they were “almost always” online felt they were “too much on social media”. The results of our 15 years The experience with children and phones is becoming increasingly evident. Kids know it, and so do we.

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