The biggest social experiment ever undertaken is currently happening with our children and the initial findings disturbing. Smart phone technology is becoming a pervasive part of children and teenager’s lives. The apps and games they use are specifically designed to form addition and the side-effects are wide ranging.

Neuroscientists have discovered that, by age 11 for girls and 12 for boys, the neurons in the front of the brain have formed thousands of new connections. Over the next few years many of these will be reinforced and many more will be lost. Those that are used and reinforced – the pathways involved in language, for example – will be strengthened, while the ones that aren’t used will die out.

If an adolescent is engaged music lessons, sports or academics, those are the connections that will be hard wired. If a teen spends large amounts of time lying on the couch or playing video games or using smart phones, those are the cells and connections that are going to survive. These patterns formed in teen years will most likely be the patterns of adult life as well.

But surely smart phones are not harmful? In a recent well-being study of teenagers, it was found that smart phones contribute to the following issues:

Tiredness / Poor Sleep – 91%
Inactivity – 65%
Decline in School Grades – 64%
Reduction in Social Activity – 63%
Anxiety – 58%
Attention Problems – 56%
Depression – 56%

A 2015 University of Houston study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology confirmed that Facebook usage can lead to depressive symptoms. A 2014 study called “Facebook’s Emotional Consequences: Why Facebook Causes a Decrease in Mood and Why People Still Use It,” showed that the longer people are actually on Facebook, the more negative their mood is afterward. In a 2010 Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine study found that “hypernetworking” teens – those who spend more than three hours per school day on social networking sites – were linked to higher rates of depression, substance abuse, poor sleep, stress, poor academics and self-harm. A 2014 study published in the journal Social Indicators Research, by Dr. Jean M. Twenge, a San analyzed data from nearly seven million teenagers and adults from across the country and found that more people reported symptoms of depression than in the 1980s. According to that study, teens are 74 percent more likely to have trouble sleeping and twice as likely to see a professional for mental health issues that their 1980s counterparts.

Does this mean that we should get rid of our smartphones? No, but we should understand the impact they can have and safer ways to use smart phones. We also need to ensure we educate our children and teens about getting the online and real-life balance in our lives right. We should put boundaries in place for our children and enforce them. May experts suggest software content controls, charging at night in a central location, no phones in bedrooms, and good modelling by parents.

At school, students are not allowed to access their phones. They should be safely stored in their bag or locker during the day.

– Article by Ross Waltisbuhl (Deputy Principal)