Acknowledge detrimental effects of social media on youth
“Why our screens make us less happy” was the title of a TED talk given by psychologist Adam Alter this April. During his talk, Alter identified a marketing phenomenon called “dog-fooding,” where companies test-drive their own product, so-to-speak, to boost investor and consumer confidence. Alter described how he once heard that the head of a large pet food company would go to the annual shareholders meeting and eat a can of his company’s own dog food. His point was, if it’s good enough for people, it’s certainly good enough for dogs. According to an Oct. 28, 2013 New Republic article, “dog-fooding” has been a standard practice for years now and there are a few notable exceptions.
These notable exceptions, it turns out, include Steve Jobs.
This was revealed in a Sept. 10, 2014 New York Times article. The interviewer recounted a conversation with Jobs following the seemingly easy question: “So your kids must love the iPad?” His response was unexpected. “They haven’t used it,” Jobs told the interviewer, “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”
Is there something Steve Jobs knew that we don’t?
It seems so; many studies are beginning to show the adverse effects of technology overuse, especially for children who are growing up with a screen always within reach.
A May 2017 study from Duke University demonstrates the potential results of adolescents spending more time online. A group of researchers surveyed 151 young adolescents, ages 11 to 15, three times per day for a month about their daily technology use. All adolescents studied were of low socioeconomic status and at risk for mental health problems. Eighteen months later, the researchers checked-in to gauge the byproducts of overuse.
The study found that on days when the teens spent more time on technology, they were more likely to exhibit behavioral and attention issues and symptoms of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
It’s no surprise that the web provides instant gratification. What do we do when we want to find a statistic? We search for it on Google. What about when we want to send a friend a message? They receive it immediately.
Though attention-related disorders have many causes, the correlation between the uptick in social media use with an increase of ADHD or related diagnoses is clear. In fact, more than one in 10 children ages four to 17 are diagnosed with ADHD, according to a 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Some experts justify the numbers by saying the disorder is overdiagnosed, while others say that doctors are just better able to spot ADHD today than in the past. Still, attention spans are decreasing. Think of the prevalence of the fad of the fidget-spinner last spring, which probably distracted kids more than it helped them pay attention.
In fact, 87 percent of over 2,000 middle and high school teachers say that technology is creating an “easily distracted generation with short attention spans” and 64 percent say this technology “do[es] more to distract students than to help them academically.” according to a 2012 Pew Internet survey.
One startling 2016 study from IBISWorld shows that ADHD medication has increased in sales by eight percent every year since 2010. It’s a booming business. For Professor Richard Scheffler of the University of California-Berkeley, this troubling increase is especially common in “cultures that put a premium on productivity and high academic achievement,” according to a 2015 Mother Jones article. Rigorous universities including Brandeis are certainly members of this type of high-pressure culture, along with the U.S. as a whole.
The 2009 documentary “Race to Nowhere” and its sequel “Beyond Measure” discuss, in great detail, the complex issues that constitute the high-pressure culture of the U.S. education system. Standardized testing has replaced creative thinking, both movies assert, and competition has replaced collaboration. Sometimes, kids even get physically sick from lack of sleep and overworking. According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress can lead to heart attack and even death, while Harvard’s Division of Sleep Medicine reports that sleep deprivation can lead to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.
The high stress levels of school, combined with the instant gratification offered by technology, provides an environment ripe for the development of symptoms of ADHD and learning disorders, such as poor attention spans, impulsivity and forgetfulness.
Still, the consequences of overusing social media can be worse, even fatal.
A May 5 CNN article reports an “alarming” rise in recent years of the number of children hospitalized with suicidal thoughts or actions. The largest surge is being seen among teen girls, the article reports. And, though the root causes are hotly debated, I think the uptick is no coincidence.
Some say cyberbullying is the main factor, while others say the prevalence of social media and academic pressure play a bigger role. While the internet can sometimes aid in suicide prevention, I would argue the net effect of social media is negative.
It is so dangerous because, on its surface, social media looks benign. At first glance, social media is wonderful; it helps us connect with friends and family around the world and maintain contact with people who may have otherwise drifted out of our lives. But, digging deeper, we see that social media encourages obsession over self-image and detracts greatly from our engaging with the world. We are not as present as we once were and certainly much less able to focus.
One article from the Child Mind Institute says that kids are “growing up with more anxiety and less self-esteem.” With the prevalence of immediate digital feedback online such as likes, kids can become more attached to their image and less to hobbies and passions. Or, in other words, they’re escaping the real world for the virtual one.
The issue, largely, is that with social media there is no limit. “The ‘bottomless’ news feeds of Twitter and Facebook make it too easy,” said Adam Alter in his TED talk. Unlike reading a book or watching a television show or movie, on social media you can scroll on and on for hours without any stopping cues. This, also, contributes to the wasting of time.
People should remain aware of how social media affects them and limit time spent looking at a device. And, if you’re daring enough, put it away for a few hours. The flowers outside really do need smelling.