Smartphones, Mental Health, and our Constantly Connected Kids

by Matt Klassen on March 24, 2015

As our kids have only known a world dominated by the ubiquitous smartphone it’s tough for them to imagine their lives without it, as not only have our mobile devices become integral to our communication, they’ve seemingly been inexorable from our very existence. But is constant connection too much, are smartphones negatively impacting our children?

Recently veteran British psychologist Julie Lynn Evans has started to ask whether this constantly connected existence is actually harming our children, noting a dramatic rise in serious childhood mental health issues she says are directly linked to the onslaught of instant communication and information available through smartphones.

In fact, one might liken Evans dark view of the impact of mobile technology on our kids’ psyches to a persistent, permanent existence on the school playground, where children are subject to a constant barrage of talking and emoting, where thought has largely been replaced by impulse, where all filters on communication are gone, and thus where the potential for hurt is significantly greater.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Evans noted that the connection between smartphones and mental health concerns in children is still somewhat tenuous, as there simply isn’t enough hard science to back it up yet, but nevertheless it seems a fairly obvious a connection does exist.

“Something is clearly happening because I am seeing the evidence in the numbers of depressive, anorexic, cutting children who come to see me. And it always has something to do with the computer, the Internet and the smartphone,” Evans told the Telegraph.

Simply put, the rise of serious childhood mental health issues like suicide, cutting, depression, and eating disorders have risen dramatically over the last decade, a time that directly coincides with the introduction of the smartphone and the arrival of our mobile constantly connected lifestyle.

While some might think it is simply coincidence that kids now have smartphones and are also increasingly suffering from mental health problems, Evans points to the instant and constant access smartphones give us to the online world; a world where communication and data are flowing towards us at an alarming rate and one where those who are still learning about their emotions might easily run into trouble.

“It’s a simplistic view, but I think it is the ubiquity of broadband and smartphones that has changed the pace and the power and the drama of mental illness in young people,” Evans explained. Unfettered access to pornography, the pervasiveness of cyber-bullying, access to information about damaging coping mechanisms coupled with the facts that data about you never really goes away and everything happens in an instant has left are kids vulnerable and confused.

But of course the problem is exacerbated because of the pervasiveness of the Internet, it’s everywhere, part of everything, meaning that even if our kids were looking for a way out, there really isn’t one– life happens online, our children simply don’t know another way.

Lynn Evans’s solution: “I think children should have privacy within their own rooms and in their diaries, and I think they should have the Internet, but I don’t think they should have both, certainly not until they have proved they are completely safe and reliable.”

Whether you believe Evans or not, as one who has written about the confluence of technology and culture for years now I can say without a doubt that technology has changed us: changed the way we communicate, the way we act, and the way we cope. It’s difficult enough for adults to live in this world, imagine how difficult it is for kids.

As with many things in life, our children need time to adjust to the digital world, to learn how to cope with it, to understand its benefits and limitations. Perhaps that means as with other responsibilities like driving and voting, smartphones need to have age restrictions on them too, at least ones imposed by us as parents.

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