How Cell Phones Impact Our Kids

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In a recent CNN article, Matt Villano, a writer and editor based in Northern California, highlights some findings from Jonathan Haidt‘s recent book “The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness”. Haidt suggests that parents should restrict their children’s access to cellphones until they reach the age of 16.

During the interview with CNN, Haidt argued that extensive research reveals concerning trends in the mental health of American tweens and teens, citing escalating levels of depression and anxiety. The American Psychological Association (APA)’s recent report echoes these worries, faulting social media platforms for their inherent risks to children and emphasizing the inadequacy of parental supervision alone.

According to Haidt, without collective action, society faces a bleak future where the mental well-being of young people remains compromised indefinitely. As he continues to advocate for his book’s message, Haidt urges both parents and teens to confront the challenges posed by social media platforms.

Following are the recommendations (verbatim) from APA’s health advisory on social media use:

  1. Youth using social media should be encouraged to use functions that create opportunities for social support, online companionship, and emotional intimacy that can promote healthy socialization.
  2. Social media use, functionality, and permissions/consenting should be tailored to youths’ developmental capabilities; designs created for adults may not be appropriate for children.
  3. In early adolescence (i.e., typically 10–14 years), adult monitoring (i.e., ongoing review, discussion, and coaching around social media content) is advised for most youths’ social media use; autonomy may increase gradually as kids age and if they gain digital literacy skills. However, monitoring should be balanced with youths’ appropriate needs for privacy.
  4. To reduce the risks of psychological harm, adolescents’ exposure to content on social media that depicts illegal or psychologically maladaptive behavior, including content that instructs or encourages youth to engage in health-risk behaviors, such as self-harm (e.g., cutting, suicide), harm to others, or those that encourage eating-disordered behavior (e.g., restrictive eating, purging, excessive exercise) should be minimized, reported, and removed; moreover, technology should not drive users to this content.
  5. To minimize psychological harm, adolescents’ exposure to “cyberhate” including online discrimination, prejudice, hate, or cyberbullying especially directed toward a marginalized group (e.g., racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, religious, ability status), or toward an individual because of their identity or allyship with a marginalized group should be minimized.
  6. Adolescents should be routinely screened for signs of “problematic social media use” that can impair their ability to engage in daily roles and routines, and may present risk for more serious psychological harms over time.
  7. The use of social media should be limited so as to not interfere with adolescents’ sleep and physical activity.
  8. Adolescents should limit use of social media for social comparison, particularly around beauty- or appearance-related content.
  9. Adolescents’ social media use should be preceded by training in social media literacy to ensure that users have developed psychologically-informed competencies and skills that will maximize the chances for balanced, safe, and meaningful social media use.
  10. Substantial resources should be provided for continued scientific examination of the positive and negative effects of social media on adolescent development.
– American Psychological Association

Haidt told the CNN that for elementary school children, it’s feasible to manage screen time by taking away phones or iPads, ideally coordinating with other parents. However, middle school presents greater challenges as kids are deeply immersed in smartphones and social media, with half of American teens online almost constantly. Strict time restrictions become crucial during this stage to mitigate the negative impact of constant device usage on children’s well-being.

Acknowledgements: ChatGPT was used to summarize some content and prepare its first draft.