New global study from Sapien Labs finds consistent links, stronger for girls
I work in behavioral health and most of my career my work has been with teens and young adults. I have never been more concerned than I am right now. I specialize in working with people with substance use disorders, particularly those with trauma backgrounds. The anhedonia that I see in young people is frightening. Many of my clients literally have no engagement with the “outside world” other than through digital media. Their friends are “online,” they don’t work, they don’t know what they want to do, they can’t articulate any goals. They don’t want to get driver’s license because it’s too scared and causes anxiety. They don’t have the skills to move out and live on their own. They don’t socialize with anyone outside of the home. They’re afraid to try new things. They are content to look at their phones and play video games. I’ve made it part of my intake now, when working with depressed teens and young adults, I immediately start probing into time spent online. It seems like they’re either checking out digitally or checking out with drugs and alcohol. But either way, they view the world and the expectations of adult life to be scarey and overwhelming.
"Parents understandably want to be able to reach their children when they are away from home"
Is this in fact understandable? I would assume that the parents of just about everyone reading this piece had neither the ability, nor likely the desire to be able to directly reach their children when they were away from home. We survived.
The desire to get in touch with your kids directly when they're outside the home strikes me as a symptom of helicopter parenting and a potential pretext for caving on the smartphone front.
I find the data in your other articles more compelling. Advent of smartphone use at younger ages could simply be a clear signal of more "neglectful" parenting, where they will simply shove a table or smartphone into their kids' hands to occupy them. These would obviously also correlate with poorer outcomes on the metrics you list.
Dear After Babel Team -
This is all great. I love your work. As a parent with a young child, I can't think of a topic that is more pressing.
But. I do need to find solutions and plan for the future. Would you ever be willing to hold, for example, weekend open threads where people could exchange parenting strategies that address some of the issues you raise? It would take some moderation, because, unfortunately, nothing turns out the crazies like people discussing parenting (some one always ends up shouting about how, like, cupcakes are abuse or something). But despite the uphill battle, I would be grateful for a space where people are taking the ideas you are presenting seriously, and brainstorming ways to integrate that into their child rearing practices.
When our kids were in elementary, the school was the biggest problem. They wanted kids to have their own devices for schoolwork and kept telling us to send them. Every other kid had phones. We refused to give them phones, we got Amazon Fire tablets that only worked on Wifi not on cellular and then I installed software to block the social media apps and filter the browser. Son didn't get phone until 9th grade when he joined marching band. Daughter got it in 8th for the same reason, but the sex differences in how the phone is used is obvious to us. Son uses it but is not obsessed by it because the video games available on the phone simply don't compare to the actual computer. But the daughter has her head constantly buried in it between social media or youtube videos.
"Not being left out" is slowly becoming "not being left out of the asylum" . Blue light destroys dopamine and the hormonal cycle through the eye:
My wife and I are releasing a podcast on this topic this Friday so we'll definitely include this study and your article. Thank you so much for putting this info together.
This is very interesting research. I did some work myself with the GSS dataset to see if I could find a correlation between time spent using electronics and self-assessed mental health/social connectedness. I found that there's little to no impact until a certain threshold of use is reached, after which health/connectedness drops precipitously. In GSS, there's no way to tell whether being lonely and unhappy causes people to spend more time watching TV/using the internet or vice versa, but the Sapien data provides that missing piece.
The same parents reward their children with snacks and soft drinks full of high fructose corn syrup.
How safe are they for adults?
How about “wait until never”? Adam Carolla has a funny bit about the difference between the smoking groups and the gun groups. The smokers’ groups were always happy to compromise (stay out of no smoking section? Ok! Only smoke at the bar? Ok! Etc etc), whereas the gun groups fight even the smallest regulation (from our cold dead hands, etc) - the result being that a couple decades later smoking is all but gone, while gun rights are as strong as ever. (Please don’t attack me over gun topic, just using Carolla’s illustration to make a point)
In other words, strong stands seem to trump compromise. I’d lean towards laws banning childhood smartphones, or parent movements pressuring against them altogether, not wait until high school type equivocations…
However, I understand I’m in the minority here. Was listening to a great podcast about the issue with Dr Kardaras about this, and his motto too is “delay delay delay.” I’d prefer “don’t even think about it!” But what do I know?
More here on that great podcast:
And thank you, as always, for all y’all do!
Quick, someone in power declare a state of emergency, activate the internet kill switch, put all social media (broadly defined) under "quarantine" for "just two weeks" (right!), and have a smartphone buyback program, STAT! And put a moratorium on all new smartphone purchases as well. And perhaps even ban public possession of such devices too.
I mean, we were willing to indefinitely shut down the economy and put everyone except those deemed "essential" (read: expendable) under indefinite house arrest, and so on, all based on far less evidence than even a preponderance, right?
I might have missed this in the post: is this controlled for year of birth? If I understand your point correctly, it should make your case stronger if it's still significant when controlling for it.
Jonathan, do you have any plans to include the ongoing debate regarding privacy and authoritarianism when it comes to age verification?
While protecting kids online through strong age verification sounds admirable, it appears that many ongoing efforts (such as the U.K. Online Safey Bill) have potentially devastating side effects for things like encryption, the right to privacy, and an increase in state-sponsored mass surveillance around the world.
As someone who cares a ton about the topics you are addressing in After Babel, I (and perhaps others) would certainly feel more secure if the dangerous side of age verification (namely the slippery slope towards erosion of privacy rights) was explored in your writings.
As an example, Heather Burns has done extensive write ups on the ramifications of the U.K. Online Safety bill: https://webdevlaw.uk/2022/06/17/data-reform-bill-cookie-popups/
Though the linked post appears ostensibly concerned with popups, there is some useful information about the erosion of privacy towards the middle and end of the article:
> the UK legislative discussion is not just about preventing children from accessing those four kinds of content. It’s about mandating age verification for anything and everything, for every user, of every age, in front of access to all topics, all subjects, all sites, all service providers, all opinions, and all content. The whole public open web. Everything.
> If you’re explaining this to someone who’s good at their job, they will immediately comprehend how this regime (e.g. identity verification packaged as age verification packaged as child safety, imposed over all content on all topics, again packaged as child safety) could be abused, in their own domestic political contexts, for matters which have nothing to do with children or online safety.
When you do your own analysis on the SapienLab data for Anglosphere (figure 6 and 7), how large are the samples in 5-8 and 17-18? These, to me just looking at the graphs, are the rank outliers, and I just wonder whether that is a function of low numbers in those groups? If you remove those data points, there doesn't seem to be that much difference in reported outcomes for kids given a phone at 9-10 than at 15-16.
How about (relatively) phone-free workplaces for adults as well? After all, you wouldn't want to be flaming hypocrites, amirite?
Thank you for continued work in ensuring that our children have a fighting chance at mental and social well-being. I particularly appreciate your implications for parents, schools, and legislation. The traditional route to change is to “coax, convince, encourage, encourage, push, push, push”. Unfortunately it doesn’t work, and even worse, it often backfires and can cause increased resistance, tension, and frustration. Rather than pushing, 'catalysts' are needed to remove roadblocks to change. I just published "A Hostage Negotiator's Guide to Cognitive Liberty" which provides parents with practical guidance for changing digital device habits. https://schooloftheunconformed.substack.com/p/a-hostage-negotiators-guide-to-cognitive.