Smartphones and Young People: Three Troubling Impacts

Sure, these devices offer instant communication and a wealth of information — but we must be aware of the tremendous downsides

Smartphones clearly have much to offer us today.

They allow nearly instant communication with just about anybody.

They’ve got a convenient camera installed — so we don’t need to sling a separate gadget over our shoulders ever again.

And smartphones offer a plethora of helpful apps, various forms of entertainment, and a world’s worth of information at a moment’s notice.

But there’s plenty of evidence out there that there are other issues to beware of — here are a few that parents, families, and all of us, no matter who we are or where we are in our lives, must know.

1.) Depression and anxiety. Since 2013, there’s been a 33 percent increase in depression diagnoses.

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The diagnoses for teens aged 12-17, along with millennials, are even more shocking, with an increase of 63 percent and 47 percent respectively.

The instant and unwavering social media access provided by smartphones all but forces people, especially teens and young adults, to compare themselves constantly to others. Instagram, in particular, has become a popularity contest, as users stress over the quality of their postings in pursuit of likes and followers.

The bad news is that this is a never-ending cycle: There will always be someone with more likes and someone with more followers. It has seemingly become more about social comparison than social connection, the very reason social media was founded.

Related: Stop with the Phones Already and Listen to Your Little Kids

Many new studies are showing that adolescents are increasingly experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety. This apparent sudden increase came in 2012, eerily enough, right about the time smartphones shot up in popularity.

2.) Addiction potential. If the correlation between mental health issues and social media use alone doesn’t scare us, this just might.

Social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat require the use of the same neural circuitry in our brains as do both casino slot machines and drugs such as cocaine and nicotine.

“I feel tremendous guilt,” confessed Chamath Palihapitiya, Facebook’s former vice president of user growth, when he spoke of this issue to a Stanford University audience. He added, “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.”

This neural circuitry exploits the “reward chemical” dopamine. Just as “doing cocaine” is associated with a rewarding feeling in the addict’s mind, so, too, is receiving likes and follows in the minds of heavy social media users.

Studies show that even just anticipating the sharing of a picture can produce a surge in dopamine.

Related: Smartphones Know Your Moods

A 2015 study even found that many people experienced feelings of withdrawal, anxiety and loss when they’ve been deprived of their smartphone. In addition to the presence of physiological symptoms such as heightened blood pressure and heart rate, subjects also performed worse on certain mental tasks.

3.) Sleep problems. It’s no secret that sleep is immensely important to our health, especially during the formative years. A good night’s sleep not only boosts mood, the immune system, memory, and cognitive stamina — but it can also lower stress and blood pressure. High-quality sleep is essential, to put it bluntly.

Phone and other screens contain blue light, which can also be found in sunlight. Many people have their eyes glued to one screen or another before they go to bed, and it’s proving detrimental to their quality of sleep.

When exposed to blue light, the body is tricked into thinking it’s daytime. The hormone melatonin decreases with darkness and increases with light exposure. Melatonin is the body’s natural way of regulating sleep-wake cycles, and with the exposure to light similar to that of the sun before bed, this cycle can be thrown off.

As if the correlation between smartphone usage and depression/anxiety weren’t enough, a bad night’s sleep can certainly set the stage for a rough day.

Take measures to avoid this by setting your phone to night mode. Or better yet, set the screen-bearing electronics aside about 30 minutes prior to heading off to sleep.

See more on this topic in the video below:

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