DENVER — At the annual luncheon for the Johnson Depression Center on the University of Colorado Anschutz campus, Dr. Jean Twenge offered an interesting thought.
“Depression started to increase. Anxiety began to increase. Suicide began to increase and at first, I didn’t really know why,” Twenge said. “But, then I realized that 2011-12 was when the smartphone became common.”
She is a psychologist and researcher from San Diego State University and the author of a book called IGen.
“Right at the time, smartphones became used by the majority of Americans, teen mental health began to suffer which made me think, there might be a connection between the two,” Twenge said.
She was part of a panel at the Johnson Depression Center luncheon along with fellow author Nir Eyal. Eyal wrote a book called Hooked. He outlined the psychological attributes that make products wildly popular, like smartphones.
“That’s the number one reason that these devices are so popular that they provide a lot of value to people’s lives,” Eyal said.
Twenge said smartphones and social media have teens comparing themselves to available, unrealistic perceptions.
“Some people call it seeing everyone else’s highlight reels on social media,” Twenge said.
Eyal said the problem is not the phone itself. It’s just that those perceptions are more available.
“What are the internal triggers driving these unwanted behaviors and if you don’t fix that, you’re always going to look for some kind of distraction,” Eyal said.
One thing both researchers do agree on is moderation.
“Tech is the drug of choice for people looking for an analgesic,” Eyal said. “Unfortunately, as with any drug, any analgesic, anything that cures pain, if you use it too much, it can be detrimental.”
Twenge said there is an ongoing debate about whether smartphones are an actual addiction.
“I think it doesn’t really matter if you call it addiction, if you call it overuse, the consequences are really the same,” Twenge said.
Eyal said families should make arrangements for events like phone-free dinners.
“Plan the time to do things you really want to do,” Eyal said.
Twenge suggested reducing screen time by setting strict rules.
“I think the most important thing for parents is to get phones out of kids’ bedrooms,” Twenge said. “Make sure that the phone is not interfering with their nighttime sleep.”
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