Saturday, 5 August 2017

Adolescents, smart phones, and mental health (2017 Term 3 Week 3)

From time to time in my reading I come across a text or piece of research that cuts through. Sometimes it is because of the quality or excellence of the prose, but it is more often because of the content. I read such a piece this week, and it is continuing to trouble me. The essay in question was published in the September 2017 edition of The Atlantic. (I am not sure why the September edition is available in early August, but that is another issue ... boom tish!) The article is Have Smartphones destroyed a generation, and it is written by Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego University. Her area of interest is generational differences.

Twenge makes the case that the current generation of adolescent people are demonstrating abrupt differences with previous generations with reference both to their behaviours and to their emotional states. The article is substantial, and will probably require 15 minutes of reading time, but my strong encouragement to parents of adolescents and those who will be soon is to make the time to read it. I will make this blog post correspondingly short, so as not to take too much of your time.

Her argument is that "The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health." Her point is not to indulge in nostalgia for days gone by, but to understand the lived reality of our children.

She observes that, whereas generational studies is usually a case of observing slowly emerging and disappearing patterns and themes, there has been a seismic shift for the current generation of teens. Cutting to the chase, she writes "... the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy."

Please read her article. Please find another adult to discuss it with. Please think about how best to engage with the issues with your child(ren).

And please, please, please, for the sake of your child and his/her own emotional and mental wellbeing, do whatever can be done to keep their phone out of their bedroom. While this will be easier to accomplish for some than for others, I am absolutely convinced that this is one of the few battles that is absolutely worth having. 

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