TPew Research Center released
results of the survey conducted in December
nearly half of all teenagers now say they use the Internet “almost constantly”—a figure that has nearly doubled since 2014. The other half said that they use the Internet at least several times a day. Only 6% of teenagers use the Internet “about once a day” or “several times a week”.
Given the ubiquity of WiFi and the proliferation of smartphones with advanced computing capabilities, it’s easy to forget that this online lifestyle is an unprecedented social experience. Human civilization is roughly 6,000 years old, and mass disembodiment has no historical counterpart. We do not know what this dependence on technology means and how it ends.
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But we are beginning to understand the impact of this lifestyle on childhood and adolescent development. Generation Z, or those born after 1996, is the first generation in the world to come of age with constant Internet use. With the rise of smartphones (owned by two-thirds of teens by 2015) and social media as the main venue for teen interaction since the 2010s, teen mood disorders have increased dramatically, along with increases in self-harm and suicide.
Some, such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, continue to insist
social media use has mental health benefits
. However, a study by psychologist Jean Twenge found that teenagers who use social media frequently are twice as likely to be depressed as their peers and
The risk of suicide among adolescents increases in relation to the number of hours spent on electronic devices
Social media appears to have a particularly troubling effect on young girls, as girls are more prone than boys to the “compare and despair” mentality prevalent on apps like Instagram. Reported level of depression
the number of hours spent on social media is higher than that of boys.
In the face of this grim data, it is remarkable how precious little cultural oxygen is wasted on sounding the alarm, let alone looking for solutions. The mental health crisis facing our nation’s youth is unprecedented and shows no signs of abating. For example, its absence from the national debate about mass shootings speaks to both the superficiality of that debate and our unwillingness to rein in our “near-constant” Internet lifestyle.
As Gen Z begins to establish itself in the workforce and possibly start families, we will discover whether the negative side effects of “almost constant” Internet use are limited to mood disorders. We do not yet understand the impact in other areas of life.
Social psychologist and bestselling author Jonathan Haidt is on a mission to solve the technology-related mental health crisis among teenagers. In light of the data, he believes that social media platforms should
is legally responsible
To meet the minimum age requirements of over 13 years. Yuval Levin, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, claims that the minimum age requirement
Must be raised up to 18 years of age. Both proposals should be taken seriously. After all, social media has proven to be at least as harmful to teen health as smoking.
Recently New York Times feature offers another sign of hope: the emergence of
“Luddite Club” led by teenagers
In New York City, redefining what it means to be a teenage rebel. This group meets regularly to enjoy each other’s company, read great novels, and paint. They have low tolerance for “non-display” and other forms caused by technological reasons. They conveniently “lose” their smartphones to escape their parents’ constant surveillance.
“I still wish I didn’t have a phone,” said one club member. “My parents are very addicted.”
It’s about time someone said so.
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Peter Laffin is a New England writer. Follow him on Twitter at @Laffin_Out_Loud.