Teenager’s Modern Day Addiction

In a recent article called ‘Why the modern world is bad for your brain’ Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin talks about the impact of technology on well being. It got me thinking… technology has brought many benefits to life — just think about medical advances in areas such as health screening and cancer research or take transport and electric cars. Think about free ‘mass’ education including TED Talks, or our ability to communicate across the world with friends and relatives through Skype.

In the article, Daniel talks about the Smartphone being a 21st Swiss Army Knife.

It’s true — on a single device that fits in your pocket you can communicate with friends, organise your life through shared calender's, check emails, listen to music, watch videos, do your banking, find a great restaurant or book a train. The list goes on.

More recently, there have been calls for more awareness around the dangers of over usage; particularly young people who have grown up the ‘Smart Phone Generation’.

Teenage Mental Health issues are now an area of major concern in education. When you read the research or speak to a teacher, smart phones have a role to play in mental health conditions.

Professor Paul Gringras from Evelina Children’s Hospital in London, recently talked about smart phones affecting sleep patterns.

The body produces a sleep hormone called Melatonin. Certain wavelengths of light, those at the blue-green end of the spectrum (which mobile phones produce) can disrupt sleep and lack of sleep is directly linked to brain performance.

In a recent Children’s Society Report called Good Childhood, it found that teenagers are regularly spending 3 hours a night on social media. This equates to 1,092 hours a year (the equivalent of 29 working weeks of time a year).

The NHS recommends teenagers get a minimum of 8 to 9 hours sleep a night. I was recently speaking to 3 teenagers who are getting between 4 and 7 hours a night due to social media or gaming.

In the Children’s Society Report, it also found teenage girls are struggling with their body image triggered by photos of friends or celebrities looking skinny. It appears to be a self-fulling prophecy with high usage of social media then triggering wellness issues.

Chemicals also have a big role to play in our mental health. Take for example Serotonin, our brains way of making us feel good. You get a Serotonin hit when people tell you they like you (including social media likes — hey people like me); or perhaps try Dopamine which rewards you for achieving things such as goals or being organised. This might include checking messages late at night (hey no one wants a full inbox to wake up to). Dopamine is a highly addictive chemical, the same chemical released from smoking Cannabis. The great thing is these chemicals make us feel good but at what price?

Looking at the broader benefits, surely Smart Phones are a good thing; maybe what is required is better education for young people so they are more empowered in how they use them, over engaging in high levels of use which is potentially damaging their brains.

I will leave you with a little thought; NASA sent men to the moon with way less computing power than a Smart Phone. It’s nice to know humans are capable of amazing things (without a smart phone). The trick is to use it to maximize your life not rule your life.

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