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Are Video Games Like Cocaine?

On November 22, 2018, Ben Bryant of the BBC asked the question, “What happens when you make teenagers abstain from alcohol, drugs and even Call of Duty?”

His provocative analysis begins with some startling statistics.

“There is mounting evidence that young people of all backgrounds in the West are facing a crisis in mental health. In recent years there has been a sharp increase in anxiety disorders and depression.”

He goes on to say that “Statistics released this week by NHS England show that nearly one in four young women have a mental illness, with emotional problems such as depression and anxiety the most common. The number of referrals to child and adolescent mental health services in England has increased by 26% over the past five years . . .”

Such jarring numbers raise the obvious question: “Did something happen five years ago that radically altered the emotional environment for adolescents?” It turns out, there was . . .

In her book iGen, San Diego State psychology professor Jean Twenge argues that teen behaviors and emotional states underwent a dramatic change after 2012. That year, she notes, “happened to be exactly the moment when the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent.”

Young people are “on the brink of the worst mental health crisis in decades,” she wrote, “[and] much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.” What are adolescents doing with their free time? Twenge says, “They are on their phone, in their room, alone and often distressed.”

Quoting Bryant, “Professor Twenge found a correlation between the rise in smartphone use and a rise in depression and loneliness among young people. She also said that after 2007 – the year the iPhone was released – young Americans experienced a fall in socializing, a fall in dating, and even less sex.” (More on this in a future blog, but noting now that even The Atlantic Monthly has addressed the trend away from sex and toward computers.)

"Twice as many high users of devices [like phones] versus low users are unhappy, depressed, or anxious," she says.

To back up her claims, Twenge pointed to two recent studies into social media use. The studies compared the wellbeing of participants who took a break from social media – or severely limited their use of it – to the well-being of those who didn’t. They found that the people who ditched social media for a while felt happier (or at least a little less sad).

The evidence is mounting that the world of cyber-sex, cyber-relationships, cyber-shopping, cyber-everything for that matter, is not necessarily in the long-term best interests of human beings.

Dr. Jean Twenge

More on this in future blogs!

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