Social Media, Cell Phones, and Children: A Discussion of Some Destructive Impacts

by Hannah
Quinn

Recent studies show that anxiety, depression, insomnia, and thoughts of suicide are all signs of a child in distress. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), the most common mental health disease in the nation is anxiety. ADAA concluded that the more hours a child uses their cell phone, the more stressed they feel. These negative psychological experiences are not the only side effects of the overuse of social media and cell phones among children. Other factors, like undeveloped verbal skills and the production of unhealthy manners, play a role in producing the undeveloped brains and bodies of juveniles. The combination of these elements produces incompetency among children. Cell phones are a common possession among children in this growing industry. If parents do not become aware of the detrimental side effects of children owning a cell phone, they risk the development of these unfavored factors.

It is important for us to pay attention to this issue because the young generation is the future of this growing population. Their brains and bodies should be protected by not introducing these harmful invaders until they have developed enough to handle these fatalistic influences. In this essay, I discuss evidence that support how children experience a negative impact from overusing social media and cellular devices. some of those negative impacts include poor communication skills, delayed brain development, production of negative psychological influences, and engagement in deviant behavior from a young age.

Some examples of communication skills include listening, confidence, nonverbal cues, empathy, and respect for others. Children are spending too much time on social media and their cell phones which creates these poor communication skills. According to a study by Bozzola et al., (2018), when children use headphones paired to their cell phone, it could damage their ear drum or nerves in the brain and impair the development of important communication skills—specifically nonverbal cues. Impairment of nonverbal cues make it harder for victims to engage in conversation and express feelings and emotions. Children dealing with this difficulty have a hard time detecting differences in body language, sense of touch, and changes in decibel levels. Impairment of these basic communication principles of child development can make future growth of more advanced skills even more challenging. Children may fall below average in school which leads to the next idea related to the negative influence of cell phones and social media—the creation of a decrease in self-esteem.

Another important communication skill lost through the overuse of social media and cell phones is confidence. Children are influenced heavily by peers, parents, and public figures. They are directly impacted by viewing their posts on social media. Young children can see the places they visit and the expensive clothing they wear, and it can spark a feeling of jealousy or self-pity. According to DailyMail (Noble, 2015), fifty-seven percent of women surveyed confess to ameliorating their photos before posting them to social media. The undefined goal of social media is for users to look their absolute best, no matter what it takes. For a child scrolling through the timeline, they may not know these images are fabricated and start to notice imperfections in themselves. This jealousy and feeling of incompetence lead to a loss in self-esteem because the child does not see their own life as something special like theirs. A change in attitude toward life may also be noticed. They may start to lose interest in connecting with peers, and being afraid that other children are superior. According to Teach Elementary, children with higher confidence levels learn to handle stress better and develop stronger communication skills (“Help Instill Confidence in Your Students”, n.d.).

Additionally, an overuse of cell phones and social media in children can produce a sensitivity to victimization causing aggressive reactions. This poor communication skill makes it harder for children to engage in mature conversation with adults or peers. Bozzola et al., (2018) mentions that the amount of screen time a child is allowed impacts their responses to being shunned by their friends. There is an association between the increase in amount of screen time and the production of stronger aggression levels among children. Social aggression refers to actions of verbal abuse rather than physical. This factor makes it challenging for children to make friends and improve their communication skills. They struggle to deal with this intense feeling, leading to using words in a harmful manner which others don’t appreciate. This issue grows stronger as a child ages and is eventually forced to seek profession help to deal with it. More money is spent helping the child than would be previously if a child was not introduced to a cell phone to begin with.

Spending too much time on their cell phones, children can also experience a hindrance in their brain development. Though it may not be noticed at first, once a child enters grade school, they will be tested on their ability to retain important information. A child experiencing a delay of brain development will find it hard to contribute and prosper in class. Bozzola et al., (2018) conducted a study which found an association between the increase in the hours of screen time and the decrease in test scores related to mathematics and attention-span. With more time spent looking at a phone screen than a paper-back novel, children develop the inability to focus for long periods of time. In order for a child to excel in grade school, they must be able to understand basic learning principles, However, the influence of cell phones and social media make it very hard for a child to grasp these concepts due to the inability to stay focused.

Another way that overusing cell phones and social media can impact brain development is by the introduction of radiofrequency radiation waves emitted from cellular devices. According to Lennart Hardell (2018), the brain is the target of these radiation waves and can cause damage to the nervous system. Continually, the article mentions the prematurity of cell phones and this discovery which makes it harder to predict the long-terms effects of this radiation. It is a known fact, however, that radiation exposure is harmful to the human body because of the cancerous cells that can reproduce. The growing body of a child is not capable of fighting off intense cancerous diseases that could develop from exposure to these radiofrequency waves. This form of cancer targets the brain and hinders its development. Beginning to grow from a young age, these cancerous cells attack areas of the brain which need to store information as the body develops. This cannot happen where tumors grow and take charge. Children should not be using a cell phone because it puts them at a higher risk of developing this brain cancer.

The overuse of cell phones and social media among children can lead to a negative psychological influence. The mental and emotional state of a child can be altered when using a cell phone. They can develop depression, anxiety, and even encounter thoughts of suicide. There is a social media phrase that users refer to as “being left on open”. That is when the receiver of the message sees it and reads it but chooses not to respond. It is a big confidence shaker for the sender. They begin to question what they did wrong which introduces feelings of depression and incompetency. According to Miller (2018), the Child Mind Institute conducted a survey of over half a million high schoolers. 33% of students claimed to experience an increase in depressive symptoms between 2010 and 2015. Additionally, the amount of depression related counseling visits on college campuses increased by 30%. During this time, the popularity of smart phones also inclined. By 2015, 92% of adolescents owned a smart phone (Miller, 2018). Both factors increased simultaneously, but it is no coincidence. Because of this relatively new introduction of fascinating technology, children are spending more time interacting through social media than in the moment with family and friends. Those children who are suffering with this issue, experience intense feelings of depression which can eventually be associated with anxiety.

An additional psychological effect a child may experience through overusing social media and cell phones is anxiety. Social anxiousness among children causes them to feel nervous, troubled, or scared; resulting in body reactions like shaking, twitching, or shortness of breath. It often coincides with depression and is triggered by more online interactions, than in person (Knorr, 2018). Social anxiety in children causes them to avoid communicating with peers or adults because they prefer to communicate online instead. They find it easier to express themselves because they avoid the pressures of face-to-face interaction. However, according to the Pew Research Center (2015), 77% of teens surveyed believe others have more original personalities when interacting in person rather than online. Children can grow comfortable with living and interacting in secluded environments like social media that, when faced with real-world situations, they will not know how to properly interact, intensifying anxiety levels. It is an ongoing issue that increases severity if it is not dealt with before the child needs professional assistance.

 A specific example of the negative psychological impact produced by cell phones and social media involves a cyberbullying incident with a young girl. Haley Tolbert’s story, mentioned in Betsy Morris’s article featured in Wall Street Journal (2018), involved the tormenting of past images she posted on social media. Her peers left derogatory comments and replies leaving her contemplating whether to end her life. Haley was only a young girl; however, this experience changed the rest of her life. Fortunately, she was able to seek professional help before extreme measures were taken. Her doctor prescribed a strong dose of anxiety medication and recommended she meet with a counselor once a week. Knowing the impact situations like this may have on children, parents should become aware of how much screen time they are allowing their child.

Children are overusing their cell phones and social media to a point where bad habits begin to develop. These bad habits include loss of sleep or even addiction to social media. Staying up all night scrolling through their social media timelines, children are impacting their body’s circadian rhythm (Bozzola et al., 2018). Lack of sleep can leave a child unfocused or unmotivated in the classroom. It can also lead to more serious effects like muscle and joint pains, headaches, irritability, and lower sleep quality (Bozzola et al., 2018). For a growing child, sleep is arguably the most important feature ensuring proper bone and brain development. Another common occurrence during a child’s sleep are nightmares or night terrors. According to Bozzola et al., 2018), the occurrence of these episodes heightens when the brain pairs bright lights with sleep deprivation. Nightmares can potentially induce insomnia which causes additional losses of sleep. These could all be avoided if children were not introduced to cell phones until they have matured and are ready to handle the responsibility.

This bad habit of sleep deprivation is most likely due to the previously developed habit—addiction to social media. Addiction is the obsessive act of infatuation to something. In this case, children are addicted to the hype of keeping up with online trends. This includes answering calls, text messages, comments, or scrolling through the user’s timeline. The reason this addiction begins is because of “the fear of missing out”, as addressed in Morris (2018). This is the idea of craving the fulfillment of social connection. Children fear they will miss out on something life-changing while they put their phone down to eat dinner with their family. Because of this factor, children confide in their cell phones to occupy their time. The addiction can only grow stronger as a child ages and it can be very hard to stop. This is strong reasoning to hesitate to give a child a phone until they reach a more mature age.

Adversely, social media and cell phones offer many ways for children to grow socially, intellectually, and physically. According to Gwen O’Keefe and Kathleen Clarke-Pearson (2011), social media allows for collaboration of knowledge and ideas, freedom of expression, connecting with similar-minded individuals, or even discovering unknown likes and dislikes. Though these are all great attributes of social media that children can explore, they are encouragements to continue searching the internet—leading to an overuse. Amanda Lenhart (2015) from the Pew Research Center claimed that although children are using social media to share their lives, eighty-eight percent of teens surveyed said they think people abuse this power by oversharing. Sharing too much information can be life-threatening in extreme cases. Children are not responsible enough to keep confidential family information, private. They put their lives in danger by posting dangerous personal information. James Vincent (2014) details in his article that twenty-five percent of the one thousand parents surveyed, admit to their child posting confidential information online. This includes the child’s full name, address, photos of themselves, and passwords to complete strangers. Again, defining more reasons why children are not able to handle the responsibility of owning a cell phone, thus giving the introduction to social media.

Young children experience a detrimental influence from the exasperation of social media and cell phones resulting in development of faulty social skills, unhealthy habits, dangerous psychological problems, and an undeveloped brain. These poor social skills include nonverbal cues, loss of confidence, and the escalation in aggression levels. Children experiencing these symptoms have trouble communicating with peers and expressing feelings. The unhealthy habits developed through this overuse include loss of sleep and addiction to a cellular device. Both issues can be hard to combat if severity increases. The dangerous psychological problems formed include onset depression, anxiety, or even thoughts of suicide. Additionally, cell phones and social media can halt the development of the brain by introducing radiofrequency radiation the produces brain cancer as well as cause the ability to retain information learned. To conclude, the driving force for future generations is in the hands of the young community. Their growing bodies and brains are very valuable to society and should be protected. Introducing cell phones and social media to children while they are still developing can only leave a negative impact.

References

Bozzola, E., Spina, G., Ruggiero, M., Memo, L., Agostiniani, R., Bozzola, M., . . . Villani, A. (2018). Media devices in pre-school children: The recommendations of the Italian pediatric society. Italian Journal of Pediatrics,44(1). https://ijponline.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13052-018-0508-7

Fader, S. (n.d.). Social media obsession and anxiety. Retrieved, November 12, 2018, from https://adaa.org/social-media-obsession

Hardell, L. (2017). Effects of mobile phones on children’s and adolescents’ health: A commentary.  Child Dev. 89(1):137-140. 

Teach Elementary (n.d.). Help Instill Confidence in Your Students.  Retrieved, November 12, 2018, from http://www.teachelementary.org/help-instill-confidence-students/

Knorr, C. (2018, April 30). What parents need to know about social media and anxiety. Retrieved, November 12, 2018, from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/what-parents-need-to-know-about-social-media-and-anxiety?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIr42Bg57U3gIVyrrACh2IRAVzEAAYASAAEgIOifD_BwE

Lenhart, A. (2015, August 06). Social media and teen friendships. Retrieved, November 12, 2018, from http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/08/06/chapter-4-social-media-and-friendships/

Miller, C. (2018, August 17). Does social media cause depression? Retrieved, November 12, 2018, from https://childmind.org/article/is-social-media-use-causing-depression/

Morris, B. (2018, Jan 13). Parents’ dilemma: When to give the children smartphones — families in a tug of war with tech companies over time and attention. Wall Street Journal Retrieved from: https://search.proquest.com/docview/1986910631?accountid=28041

Noble, F. (2015, February 11). More than half of women admit to editing their social media photos. Retrieved, November 12, 2018, from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2948410/More-half-women-admit-editing-social-media-photos-posting-despite-two-thirds-thinking-s-wrong-magazines-it.html

O’Keeffe, G. S., Clarke-Pearson, K., & Council on Communications. (2011, April 01). The impact of social media on children, adolescents, and families. Retrieved, October 26, 2018, from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/127/4/800.short

U.S. teens & young adults social media users by age group 2017 | Statistic. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/250176/social-network-usage-of-us-teens-and-young-adults-by-age-group/

Vincent, J. (2014, February 11). One in four children share personal information with strangers online. Retrieved, November 12, 2018, from https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/safer-internet-day-one-in-four-children-share-personal-information-with-strangers-online-9120574.html