Kids and smartphones: The danger

Nina Langton’s scary experience with depression and suicide.
• The latest statistics on teenage mental health.
• A teen’s brain is still developing.
• Limiting smartphone use in schools.
• Tips to get teens to put down their smartphones.
• The Gray Nomad’s body-image and insecurity.

This blog falls in the category of Health and Hiking. My two other blog categories are Science and Energy, and Inspiration and Hope. My next blog is planned to be about cancer.

Teen depression has surged, fueling concern about iPhones and other smartphones. It’s become a serious issue. The following is excerpted from an article We need to Talk about Kids and Smartphones in Time Magazine on 6 November 2017, written by Markham Heid.

NINA LANGTON, 16 YEARS OLD lived in a prosperous neighborhood, and was close with her parents. “I was spending a lot of time stalking models on Instagram, and I worried a lot about how I looked.” She’d stay up late in her bedroom, looking at social media on her phone, and poor sleep – coupled with an eating disorder – gradually snowballed until suicide felt like her only option. “I just wanted help and didn’t know how else to get it.”

Nina’s mom Christine was “completely caught off guard” by her daughter’s suicide attempt. “Nina was funny, athletic, smart, personable…depression was just not on my radar.”

Nina Langton, 16 years old: “While many teens experience depression, few are willing to talk about it. I was worried for so long about opening up about my troubles. Because I thought I would be judged. So many people my age reached out to me about their own experiences with technology (smartphones) and depression and therapy. I think this is a big problem that needs to be talked about more.”

Nina was insecure about her body-image. I had this same issue when I was 14, and I talk about this in the POST-SCRIPT at the bottom of this blog.

Nina Langton in her college dorm room. Photo by Rania Matar for Time.

PARENTS, TEENAGERS, AND RESEARCHERS AGREE that smartphones are having a profound impact on the way adolescents today communicate with one another and spend their free time.

• An HHS survey of 17,000 kids in 2016 found that 13% of them had a major depressive episode in the prior year – compared with 8% of the kids surveyed in 2010.
• Between 2010 and 2016 the number of adolescents who experienced at least one major depressive episode leaped by 60%.
• Suicide deaths among people aged 10-19 have also risen sharply. Among teenage girls, suicide has reached 40-year highs.
• Using data in 2010-2015 from 500,000 adolescents nationwide, kids who spend more than 3 hrs a day on smartphones or like devices were 34% more likely to suffer at least one suicide-related behavior – including feeling hopeless or seriously considering suicide – than kids who used devices less than 2 hrs a day. Among kids who used devices more than 5 hrs a day 48% had at least one suicide-related outcome.

• Teens are very under-developed in impulse control and empathy and judgment as compared with adults. (They may not know to avoid disturbing online content or encounters).
• Teens have a hyperactive risk-reward system that allows them to learn – but also to become addicted – much more quickly than grownups.
• The prefrontal cortex is critical for focus and interpreting human emotion, and doesn’t fully develop until the mid-20s. “During our teenage years, its important to train the prefrontal cortex not to be easily distracted. What we’re seeing is that young people are constantly distracted and also less sensitive to the emotions of others,” says Paul Atchley a professor of psychology.

• Colleen Nisbet, a high-school counselor: “Lunch was always a very social time when students were interacting and letting out some energy. Now they sit with their phones out and barely talk to each other.”
• She also says, “They’re making comments or criticizing each other to friends while they’re all sitting together.”
• The Internet leads people to speak in coarser, crueler ways than they would offline.


Click to enlarge or to source.


Maryellen Pachler, a nurse practitioner: “The glamor and gleam of social media is also fueling a rise in teen anxiety. My patients see their friends in Snapchat or Instagram photos where they look so happy, and they (the patients) feel like they’re the only ones who are faking it. I want to tell them Listen, this girl you’re jealous of — she was in counseling with me yesterday.”

• Most schools allow smartphone use between classes and during free periods.
• But keeping students off their phones during class has become a tremendous burden.
• A company called Yondr makes lockable phone pouches that can’t be opened until the end of the day.
• Since implementing restrictions, one high school, San Lorenzo, reported that kids are more focused and engaged during class. Fewer fights have broken out. There’s so much more joy and interaction.

• Keep smartphones out of kid’s bedrooms. There is strong data linking bedroom screen time with a variety of risks – particularly sleep loss. And kids need more sleep than grownups.
• Set online firewalls and data cutoffs. Most devices and Internet providers offer parenting tools that restrict access to problematic content, and curb data use.
• Create a smartphone contract with your child. Rules could include no smartphones at the dinner table, or no more than one hour of social media use after school.
• If you’re a parent, be a role model yourself. Don’t be a phone-junkie. Put your phone away while driving and at mealtimes. Don’t criticize another parent on Facebook, or slam someone else’s political views on Twitter.

The full Time Magazine article can be read if you CLICK HERE.

The Gray Nomad at 14 years old….just kidding. But you can see a couple of the features I mentioned. I always grew my hair long at the back to cover up the third feature!

When I was 14, I used two mirrors to look at my face in profile. It was the first time, and I was dismayed. My nose bent up, I had no chin, and the back of my head stuck out. I thought I looked okay from the front, which was some consolation, but I still wished I could change all these things. I figured I would be unattractive to girls…one reason perhaps that I didn’t start dating until I was 20.

My poor body-image upset me for months. Gradually it improved because I had a good self-image elsewhere – I was good at tennis and ping-pong, and good at my schoolwork. But the truth is, for the rest of my life I have avoided looking at my profile. The few women I opened up and discussed this with said they liked the way I looked. That helped a lot.

The learnings for me:

One, don’t hang your self-esteem on only one peg, such as body-image. Grow and develop yourself and seek excellence in different ways.

Two, be realistic: The head cheerleader that all the guys want to date may be deficient in IQ, personality, humility, inner beauty, caring for others, or any number of things. No-one is perfect.

Three, who’s to say what’s most important? For me its God, and everyone is important to God — he loves everyone, no matter how imperfect or perfect. And that’s a great peg to hang your self-esteem on.

If you would like to receive by email each blog I write, enter your email address where it says SUBSCRIBE TO BLOG at top right (your email is totally protected). If you decide later not to receive these blogs, you can unsubscribe with one easy click.

Feel free to share this article with someone who might be interested. Just click on one of the “share boxes” at the bottom of the page (you will need to input your email and/or password). Or you can share on Facebook if that’s where you receive this blog. Or just ask folks to google on IanDexterPalmer

The Gray Nomad ….. help someone to hope.
Will they find delight in the Almighty? Will they call on God at all times?
[Book of Job, chapter 27.]

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
6 years ago

I have three grandchildren 7, 9, and 11 and I know what their tablets mean to them. Very troubling for all of us.
I can say I am so blessed to have been raised in a time where we were outside having fun doing the most mundane things.

Mary Ann Pollock
Mary Ann Pollock
6 years ago

What an interesting blog but yet so sad. As a teenager I also had low self esteem . I was skinny and had freckles . My family did not have a lot of money so I did not have cute clothes like my friends. I can relate with the young girls fighting self-image and my heart goes out to them. Thanks for writing this blog.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x