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Not everyone thinks phones have a negative effect on kids. At the New York Times Nathaniel Popper writes:

“A growing number of academics are challenging assumptions about the negative effects of social media and smartphones on children.”

Research by two psychology professors sifted through 40 studies examining links between social media use, adolescent depression and anxiety. They conclude the link is “small and inconsistent”.

Social media

In other words this isn’t about phones, it’s about social media. Phones are what people in the computer security business call the attack vector.

Earlier research published in the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2011 suggests there is a link between Facebook and depression. That was later revised.

Since then here have been many similar high profile reports. One researcher linked social media to teen suicide.

“There doesn’t seem to be an evidence base that would explain the level of panic and consternation around these issues,” said Candice L. Odgers, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, and the lead author of the paper, which was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.”

“The debate over the harm we — and especially our children — are doing to ourselves by staring into phones is generally predicated on the assumption that the machines we carry in our pockets pose a significant risk to our mental health.”

With academics you have to take note of all the words. Odgers talks of ‘significant risk’. That doesn’t mean there is no risk. Her point is that the panic is overdone. That doesn’t mean we can ignore the risks.

The kids are alright

Odgers says: “In most cases, they say, the phone is just a mirror that reveals the problems a child would have even without the phone.”

This is true. But do phones, or social media, reveal or amplify the problems?

While this story may make sense from an academic psychiatry point of view, there’s another dimension. We know social media outlets and their advertisers manipulate emotions because they have admitted as much and, in some cases, promised to improve future behaviour.

So by all means dial down your concerns about children and phones, but don’t wash your hands of the matter. There are things to worry about, they just are not as bad as excitable commentators would have you think.

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