People in the iGen—those born between 1995 and 2012—are the first generation to have spent their whole teenage years with a smartphone. Unfortunately, an alarming amount of mental health issues have been observed in this group, with researchers suggesting a link between mental health disorders and digital media use.
According to the American Psychological Association, over the past decade, mental health disorders among young Americans have risen significantly compared to that of previous generations.
Jean Twenge, author of “iGen” and professor of psychology at San Diego State University, said: “More U.S. adolescents and young adults in the late 2010s, versus the mid-2000s, experienced serious psychological distress, major depression or suicidal thoughts, and more attempted suicide.
“These trends are weak or non-existent among adults 26 years and over, suggesting a generational shift in mood disorders instead of an overall increase across all ages.”
At around 2012, Twenge started to see some sudden changes in teens’ behavior and mental health, and noted a significant difference in the behaviors across generations.
“The biggest surprise is how much less time they spend with their friends in person. Whether it’s hanging out with friends, going to parties, driving around, or going to the mall, iGen teens do it less than previous generations when they were young,” Twenge said.
Mental Health Issues Among iGen
When compared to millennials, iGens are more depressed, more lonely, and many are not satisfied with themselves or their lives, Twenge said.
What is truly disturbing is the suicide rate—among 15- to 19-year-old females, the suicide rate more than doubled from 2.4 to 5.1 per 100,000 people from 2007 to 2015; among boys in the same age range, the rate increased by 30 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
With an increase in screen time, coupled with a lack of sleep, tiredness, and mood changes, as well as communication breakdown with families, it has become apparent that negative input from the internet is affecting our youngsters.
“It’s probably not a coincidence that mental health issues began to increase around 2012, the first year that the percentage of Americans with a smartphone rose above 50 percent,” Twenge said.
“Spending a lot of time on smartphones is correlated with unhappiness,” she added.
Toddlers and Younger Kids Are Also Affected
It’s not just teenagers being affected though; even toddlers and young school children are suffering from the effects of radiation from digital media use.
In the coming decade, more than 11,000 children currently aged 9 to 10 will be followed by scientists, who will determine how childhood experiences affect the brain, emotional development, and mental health. One of the experiences scientists aim to study is the impact of screen time. The study is funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH).
So far, brain scans from 4,500 children aged 9 to 10 reveal shrinkage of the brain cortex when daily screen usage tallied more than seven hours.
In the United States, radiation levels from cellphones have been measured to determine “safe levels” for adults but do not account for the risks to children.
Research on Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) in test models for children’s brains indicated much higher levels compared to that of adults.
Additionally, research conducted by the National Toxicology Program shows tumors forming in the brains, hearts, and adrenal glands of male rats when exposed to radiation. The research concluded that radiation increases cancer risk.
So how much screen time do your kids get exactly?
Many parents have fallen into the trap of letting kids watch movies or games on devices to keep them occupied.
Perhaps it is to give the parents a break? Or maybe they have become used to it? Parents need to consider how long-term screen time can affect children. Is it really causing any harm? Unfortunately, the answer is “yes” in many cases.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under 2 years of age do not have any digital media time, except for video chats.
“Media and digital devices are an integral part of our world today,” the AAP said in a statement.
“The benefits of these devices, if used moderately and appropriately, can be great. But, research has shown that face-to-face time with family, friends, and teachers plays a pivotal and even more important role in promoting children’s learning and healthy development. Keep the face-to-face up front, and don’t let it get lost behind a stream of media and tech.”
Haven’t you noticed how grumpy kids are after they spend a long time staring at that screen? They find it hard to communicate with others after being fixated on the device, and these habits become hard to break.
It’s important to protect your child’s brain from harmful radiation by keeping them away from smart devices as much as you possibly can. These devices are not so smart after all and so it is up to parents to be responsible.
Focus on the Family advises parents to establish cellphone ground rules, and teach children cellphone etiquette.
“Times and technology have changed, and we are in desperate need of guidelines for those pesky little communication devices.”