In a series of tweets this week, former Apple executive Tony Fadell, who designed the iPod and iPhone, echoed recent criticism from major Apple investors, who called for the company to research the effects of technology on the mental health of children and teenagers.
He tweeted that “device addiction” is real, and wants Silicon Valley to fix it. “Our smart phone ‘bottle’ needs to tell us we’ve had enough.” Fadell added that Google, Facebook, and Twitter have “gotten so good at getting us to go for another click, another dopamine hit. They now have a responsibility & need to start helping us track & manage our digital addictions across all usages – phone, laptop, TV etc,” he tweeted.
The comparison of social media platforms and smartphones to addictive habits of those who abuse prescription drugs, isn’t so far-fetched, according to Tampa-based Child Psychiatrist Kristopher Kaliebe, M.D.
“The brightest brains of our current generation are getting in to college, going out, getting jobs, and working to develop ways to keep people stuck on their devices,” says Kaliebe, who contributed to the Journal on Internet and Mental Health.
He explains distractions by phones or computers forces our brains to toggle back and forth, taking away brain energy: bad for adults, worse for kids.
“Each time your brain toggles to the phone, sees what’s going on, and then toggles back to your work, that takes brain energy away,” he says.
Kaliebe says researchers have found a “complex reciprocal interaction between mental health disorders and media use.” He adds that too much digital media can cause mental health disorders. These mental health disorders are most impacted by media:
Kaliebe often sees patients whose parents worry their children have ADHD when in reality, they’re over-taxing their brains, causing the inability to focus.
“Parents bring their children in, concerned that they are struggling academically. Often, I learn that the kid has a phone or some other electronic device in their room, and, when they’re studying, they shift their attention back and forth. Turning off, or removing, devices, he says, will improve focus.
Children that have been diagnosed with ADHD, and tend to be impulsive and lose track of time, often end up abusing video games and social media, according to Kaliebe.
Autistic children like fixed things, repetition, geographical shapes, and a need for orderliness. These needs are often met with online games and may be beneficial for children with autism in small amounts. However, Kaliebe says that when children learn to love playing online and develop a need for it, and it’s taken away, there’s disruption because of it.
Social media may worsen kids’ depression and anxiety. The fear of missing out on notifications, posts, or messages adds stress. And, Kaliebe says, children who suffer from anxiety or depression have a difficult time being authentic online, because that’s often not rewarded with ‘friends,’ ‘likes’ or other positive reinforcement. In turn, symptoms of depression or anxiety may get worse.
Common Sense Media is a nonprofit organization that provides independent reviews, age ratings, & other information about all types of media. Its website includes recommendations for age-appropriate content and advice for parents who have concerns about their children and social media/technology. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/
American Academy of Pediatrics provides a customized “Family Media Plan,” which helps craft a realistic schedule for screen time, taking in to account educational requirements, extra-curricular activities, household chores, and other items determined by the family. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/media/Pages/default.aspx
Facts for Families provides concise and up-to-date information on issues that affect children, teenagers, and their families, and is distributed and updated by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Brian P. McDonough, MD, FAAFPPeer
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