The current teenagers grow up in the age of pervasive digital technology, without a smartphone, no one step can not step. And as evidenced by national polls, more and more teenagers are experiencing a crisis: the cases of depression and suicides. Adults are concerned about: blame the phones! Technology is driving us crazy! Author Vox (USA) decided to look into this matter.

Current American teenagers growing up in the age of pervasive digital technology, when smartphones became “eternal companions”. And as evidenced by national polls, more and more teenagers in crisis.

Here, perhaps, the most alarming statistic: in the period from 2009 to 2017, the proportion of students with suicidal ideation increased by 25%. The proportion of adolescents with clinical depression in the period from 2005 to 2014 increased by 37%. Perhaps in reality this figure is even higher, but some hesitate to admit it. In addition, increasing suicide mortality.

Adults these trends noticed and began to worry: blame the phones!

“It is true that smartphones have destroyed a generation?” asked in 2017, the magazine “Atlantic” with the provocative cover.

In his article, which has gained broad popularity, Professor of psychology at the state University of San Diego gene Twenge (Jean Twenge) summarized data on the relationship of mental health with the development of technologies and answered this question in the affirmative. The same view is confirmed in the public mind.

People’s fears about smartphones are not limited to depression or anxiety. Real panic spread gambling and telefonicamente — because of the ubiquity of digital technologies we have spoiled the concentration and memory. Crowd all these questions evoke the horror of the real: technology is driving us crazy.

But become acquainted with the scientific literature and communicate with scientists who are trying to get to the bottom and from your confidence will not be over.

Conducted research on the topic, is there a connection between the use of digital technologies and mental health, gave unconvincing results — both in studies of both adults and children. “In the scientific world is in confusion,” notes Anthony Wagner (Antony Wagner), head of the Department of psychology at Stanford University.

“Is there convincing evidence of a causal connection that social networks affect our perception, neurological function, or the neurobiological processes? Answer: we have no idea. We have no data”.

Some researchers with whom I had a chance to talk — even those who believe that the link between the proliferation of digital technologies and mental illness are exaggerated — think it’s an important question that requires further study and analysis.

If technology is anything to blame for the growth of juvenile fears, depression and suicide, we need to install for sure. And if the ubiquity of digital devices in any way impact on the human psyche — how our brain develops, copes with stress, learns, pays attention and decides we should be sure.

Question, how does technology affect the mental health of children and adolescents is extremely important. Collected data on the causes of panic require further study. So I asked the researchers in this field a simple question: how do we get the most convincing answer?

They explained to me, the consequences and how the situation can be corrected. Simply put: scientists need to ask precise, specific questions, it is necessary to collect qualitative data, and in all areas of psychology. And, surprisingly, scientists will be powerless if they will not help the tech giants like “Epple” and “Google”.

Where did the connection between social networking and depression?

The assumption that overreliance on technology and social media is detrimental to mental health, took not from the ceiling.

“The advent of smartphones has drastically changed all aspects of life of teenagers,” writes Twenge in “Atlantic”. Even if you are confused by the word “radical”, to deny that one has changed how teenagers communicate with each other (or, if you prefer, don’t communicate), it will be difficult. Whether these changes alarming increase in mental illness among teenagers?

It’s an interesting version, not devoid of Foundation.

First, saying that no data, Wagner does not mean that no studies have been conducted. He meant that there is no conclusive evidence that digital technology adversely affect the minds.

That’s how things are in reality. A number of surveys among young people showed a statistically significant relationship between time spent on the phone and the computer, and some indicators of well-being, including depressive syndromes — really is.

However, these studies, conducted by the centers for control and prevention of diseases among young people, did not put in the forefront of digital technology. They only provide a General assessment of adolescent behavior and their psychology — for example, regarding drug use, sexual activity and diet.

In 2017 Twenge and her colleagues found alarming regularity on the results of the two surveys: teenagers who spend more time in social networks are likely more at risk of depressive disorders and suicidal tendencies. And more likely this pattern was evident among adolescent girls.

Here we must immediately make three reservations. First, the data do not imply a causal relationship.

Second, depressive symptoms do not mean clinical depression. Adolescent respondents simply agreed with such statements that “life often seems meaningless.” While in another survey Twang and his colleague found that teenagers who use electronic devices for seven or more hours a day, diagnosed with “depression” put twice as often.

Such reservations such studies are just swarming. In General, they rarely conduct a causal link, but exclude clinical assessment (relying on personal data), arbitrarily treat the term mental health, self-evaluation use the scale and use the generic type “screen time” and “use of electronic devices” includes any device, whether smartphone, tablet or computer. Therefore, their findings, despite their statistical significance, are quite modest.

The confusion is exacerbated by the fact that different studies examine different parameters: Twang colleagues looked at the mood, while others are more interested in attention, memory or dream.

Here are just a few of the reasons why scientists can not clearly answer this seemingly simple question, how does technology help you children or, on the contrary, harm.

To accurately outline the contours, researchers will need to deal with several serious problems in the literature. Let us consider them in turn.

“Screen time” is hard to measure

Consider that studies of the mental health of young people something akin to nutrition — there is also a mess.

Dietitians rely heavily on the self-esteem of patients. People are asked to recall what they ate and when. And the memory of the evil people. So much so that the approach can safely be considered “wrong”, as explained by my colleague Julia Belluz (Julia Belluz).

Perhaps it makes sense to ask yourself, maybe with the research of network behavior the same? Because all surveys teenagers often are asked to evaluate themselves on how many hours a day they spend on different devices — phones, computers or tablets. The answers are summarized in the column “screen time”. Occasionally the question States: “how many hours a day do you spend on social media?” or “how many hours a day do you play computer games?”.

Answering them is harder than it looks. How much time are you sitting in the phone without any case — for example, in line at the supermarket or in the bathroom? The more we cling to the device without any aim, the harder it is to track your own habits yourself.

Research 2016 showed that only a third of respondents are accurate in their assessments of time spent on the Internet. In General, this setting people tend to exaggerate, scientists have discovered.

“Screen time” is different, but the difference is not considered

Another snag in the question — it is put too broadly.

“Screen time is different, this is not the same thing. There are hundreds of ways to spend time at the computer, explains Florence Breslin (Breslin Florence) from the Institute of brain research in Tulsa, Oklahoma. — You can sit in Sistah, play games, do research, read. You can go even further. So, to play online with friends is not the same as to play alone.”

This point should be more fully reflected in research.

“In dietetics nobody talks about “food time, says Andrew Przybylski, an experimental psychologist at the Oxford Institute for Internet research. — We are talking about calories, proteins, fats and carbohydrates. The term “screen time” does not reflect the whole palette”.

It’s not easy to do, because the technology is not in place. Today teenagers sitting in the network “Tiktok” (or something?), and tomorrow will join the new social platform. In dietetics, at least you can be sure that the carbs will be carbs. Unlike app, they will not change.

“Today, the Newspapers assert that wine is useful, and tomorrow what is harmful, explains Przybylski. — Now imagine what would happen if the wine varied at the same rate. If constantly new wine.”

Meanwhile, the screens around us is becoming more. Already there are even refrigerators with a screen and Internet access. Is that also considered “screen time”?

“If we consider the digital technology in General, important nuances are lost, explains Amy Orben (Amy Orben), a psychologist from the Oxford Institute for Internet research. — If flipping on Instagram page with modelleme-skinny, the effect is not the same, if just to chat on Skype with grandma or with my classmates.”

Scientists require “passive data collection” and waiting for help from the media giant

Now Breslin is working on a large-scale study of brain development in adolescents. This work is funded by the National institutes of health and focuses on the cognitive development of the brain.

To date, observations of 11 thousand 800 children from 9 years of age have been conducted for more than 10 years. The development and behavior of children is assessed annually on a range of indicators, including the monitoring of physical activity using “smart” bracelets. Every two years the children are brain scans to track their neurobiological development.

This is a long term intensive study, whose goal is to establish a causal connection. If children develop disturbing mood swings, depression or addiction, scientists will be able to perform all previous and related factors in the formative years and determine which of them determined psychological development.

Today to answer this question clearly, scientists are not yet in force, recognizes Breslin. Everything rests on the lack of data. In her study, children are asked to indicate what they are doing at the computer. “Screen time” is divided into categories, such as multiplayer games, single games and social networks. Again, there are always new apps — all and will not follow. Therefore, to draw definitive conclusions as devices and social networks affect the developing brain, without help, scientists are unlikely.

So all hope Breslin and her colleagues on the passive data collection. They want Apple and Google, the main developers of operating systems for smartphones, shared data with them about what they are doing in their phones.

The data these companies have. Remember a new statistics application that recently appeared in “iPhone”. It is a weekly report on how users spend time on the phone. However, scientists these data are not available.

“Now that the screen time itself is measured in operating system, scientists are increasingly asking Apple for access to these data for research,” explains Breslin.

With the permission of the respondents and their parents the scientists can figure out the network habits of children without a single issue. According to her, Google has already agreed, the case for Apple.

You can use third-party apps, but they are often overly Intrusive and record all up to the pressing of individual keys. In addition, their application is often buggy and poorly compatible with other applications. Data directly from the “Apple,” explains Breslin, will give scientists access to already existing information.

But even with passive data collection to clue yet Oh how far. To say for sure whether they harm children or not — is very difficult.

The scientists have to agree on the effect size

For example, digital technology really affect mental health. But how can we be sure that this relationship really is essential? This is another key question to be answered by scientists.

In the end, on the child’s psyche is affected by many factors — parents, economic status, ecology, habit of reading books and so on.

What if it affects the totality of these factors, digital technologies are just a drop in the ocean? Maybe the attention of the international community are quite different measures — for example, to eradicate child poverty?

Guess it wouldn’t hurt the images.

In 2017 Twenge found that in one study the correlation between sitting in social networks and depressive symptoms was 0.05. Among girls this figure was slightly higher at 0.06. But if you take one of the boys, it was only of 0.01 — that is, in principle ceased to be relevant.

In sociology the correlation of the measured values in the interval from -1 to +1. A negative one indicates perfect negative correlation and plus — perfect positive.

So 0.05 — a value quite small. Let’s try to portray this clearly. Psychologist Kristoffer Magnusson (Magnusson Kristoffer) offers a cool online tool for visualizing statistics. Here is a schematic graph data 1 000 study participants. Imagine that the X — axis is depressive symptoms, and the Y axis is the time spent in social networks. If you do not hold auxiliary lines, you will notice you do this relationship?

Show it on the Venn diagram as a partial overlap of the two parameters.

Twenge and her colleagues also found that the correlation between the use of electronic devices, and suicidal tendencies (as they are determined by the original study), was 0.12, that is only slightly higher.

Some of these correlations are considered statistically significant and emerge in several studies. But how are they relevant?

“We — the researchers and should not think about statistical significance, about the true impact of an effect,” explains Orban.

Recently they Przybylski published an article in the journal “nature, human behavior” Nature (Human Behavior), where he tried to present a correlation study in a broader context.

After analyzing the data 355 thousand 258 respondents, they found a small negative correlation between digital technology and mental health.

But then they compared these figures with those of people with poor eyesight, who have to wear glasses — and this is another important factor that from childhood affects psychological well-being. Well, it turned out that the glasses impact even stronger! Of course, when you have to wear glasses, and you always tease, good enough — but no need to limit the “point of time”. On the other hand, outright bullying effect four times stronger than digital technology.

In addition, it was found that the consumption of potatoes affects the psyche almost as negatively as digital technology. Again, public censure potatoes are not causes, and there is no evidence that it is harmful to children. “At the same time the available data indicate that the impact of technology was statistically significant, but at the same time is so minimal that it hardly makes a practical difference.”

Przybylski and Orben also found that is important and how scientists interpret depressive symptoms.

“I analyzed all the options and found that you can spend hundreds of thousands of research and come to the conclusion that the relationship is negative, still the same — and say that the relationship is positive, and, finally, with the same success to conclude that the relationship does not. That is, see, what a mess,” says Orben.

For starters, scientists should more clearly define which parameters are important and how they are measured. And it is better to fix the analysis plan in advance, so you do not customize the results.

Questions should be formulated more clearly and specifically, and someone is not satisfied. So, ask how much time we should spend behind the screen means too to simplify things.

“The right number, says Breslin. But generic methods are unlikely to find”.

By providing more accurate data to ask more specific questions of how digital technologies affect mental health.

For example, this: can multiplayer game to help shy children who find it difficult to establish rapport? The answer to this question will not tell you how many hours a day you can spend for network games. But the parents of these children know for sure what will help and what not.

Then the questions will fall hail: what about children from poor families, beating them whether social media hurts or not? And if social networks are harmful, then what about multitasking when people do several things at once? In some cases, Dating network benefit in real life? Will be lots of questions, and each requires close attention.

“Of course, a purely experimental study, where some children will grow up with social networks, and others — no, we can’t,” says Orben.

Apparently, the role of the Internet in the next decade are unlikely to diminish. And if digital technologies are harmful to children, we, again, need to know for sure, she says.

So it’s time to give answers to all these questions.

“Otherwise, we’ll have to continue to argue unproven,” concludes Orben.

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