Dr. Marc Siegel: Smartphones really are dangerous for our kids (they put them at risk for suicide and more)

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Alarming new reports that should concern every parent link heavy smartphone use by children to an increased rate of social isolation, depression, suicidal thoughts and even suicide.

This is, unfortunately, just the latest example of a technological advance that was designed to make our lives easier turning out to have harmful consequences.

We’ve seen this happen before. When cars replaced horses as our primary mode of transportation, traffic accidents and deaths soared. When airline travel became widespread it led to rare but costly accidents that claimed many lives. And when television and later video games were introduced, both cut the time children spent reading and playing outdoors, contributing to difficulties in school and an increase in childhood obesity.

It’s been 10 years since Apple co-founder Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone. Today 92 percent of teens have a cellphone.

Though smartphones have made it easier for us to communicate with each other in many different formats – including social media – they have paradoxically increased the risk of social isolation. This is especially true among teenage girls, who may look to Snapchat or Instagram only to discover that a party is going on that they were not invited to attend.

And cyberbullying – something that didn’t exist until a few years ago – has caused far too many teens terrible pain, making life miserable and driving some to suicide.

The Centers for Disease Control found that from 2010 to 2015 the rate of suicide and severe depression increased by over 30 percent in teens age 13 to 18 – a stunning increase. More than 60 percent of the increase occurred in girls.

Our teens spend a lot less time today talking to each other than they did a few years ago, and a lot more time communicating with each other on their smartphones without saying a word. They post messages, photos and videos. Waiting rooms of bus and train stations, airports and restaurants are filled with teens texting rather than talking to each other.

A study recently released by Florida State University showed a strong correlation between suicidal thinking and cellphone use, with those who used electronic devices for more than five hours per day showing close to a 50 percent incidence of at least one suicidal behavior. 

The study’s authors reported that “adolescents who spent more time on new media (including social media and electronic devices such as smartphones) were more likely to report mental health issues.”


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