Cell Phones, Internet Usage, and Psychiatric Medication: What does this mean for our children?
A great deal of development occurs during the years of childhood, from growth spurts in height, to shedding shoe sizes, to the size of a child’s vocabulary. In today’s modern world, we put a great deal of emphasis on education and being a productive member of society through interactions with modern technology, which can have adverse effects on our young children. In recent years, physical health has become more of a key issue in media and politics, with P.E. programs in our schools and extracurricular sporting activities receiving a fair amount of attention. What is less thought about and talked about are the challenges present for the minds of our young people and their psychological development, especially in the areas of new digital technologies such as cellular telephones and the internet, and the extensive use of medications for mental ailments. For countless generations, parenting has involved trial and error, success and failure, punishment and reward, and also love and care. We might feel that giving extra computer time, a cell phone, or a medication that helps our child be able to focus instantly (regardless of if they really do have a chemical imbalance or not) are caring gestures, but when we take a step back and look at where we have come from and where we are today with child development, caring might become more daring than we would have ever thought.
It has been only about ten years since modern cellular technology started to take hold in the general population at large. In 2010 however, it has been projected that over five billion of our world’s inhabitants will be carrying a cell phone (Physorg.com, 2010). With the advent of the smart phone, telephones moved away from their primary purpose to be to have a vocal conversation with someone for a purpose, or because of distance, to being the center of our digital worlds, and for recreation. Modern telephones now have the ability to take photographs, share events, receive email, entertain, and communicate via voice and textual conversations. With all of these helpful services, it was not long before cell phones gained popularity among the general population, and their children. With cell phones in the hands of children, parents are able to keep track of their kids more easily while they are at a friend’s house, to find out if they need to be picked up after school, or to provide entertainment on a long car ride. Although there are many safe, helpful uses for cell phones in the hands of children, the Greenwich Citizen points out that potential harm can also arise (McGarty Webb, 2010). One potential effect of radio technology that has been pointed out for many years is the effect of radiation from phones on the human body. Literature appears to be more or less inconclusive for whether or not this radiation is harmful, and if it is, in what ways; however, continued exposure to cell phone radiation over a long period of time has been shown to have an effect on health, especially reproductive health (Mann, 2008). Cell phones also open the door to communicating using a wide variety of mediums to anyone around the world almost instantly. Child predators can find their way to talk to children with relatively no moderation or restriction, and children are often capable to easily make their way around fail-safes put in place by parents to access restricted content.
Another technology that has taken the place of voice conversation on cell phones, and has been present on computers for decades, is the internet. Many children today grow up with internet access readily available in their households, and the ability to have their own email address, Facebook profile, and YouTube favorites list. The internet can be very helpful for the mental development of children, especially for education and research, and also for socializing with their peers. In a 2002 article, the pros and cons of internet usage amongst young people were already starting to become apparent where researchers outlined that internet usage can have both physical and mental effects. Physically, computer usage helps with eye hand coordination, but can also lead to fatigue and an unhealthy lifestyle. Also, computer usage can facilitate social interaction and improve problem-solving abilities, but it can also change the way children think (Verdick.org, 2002). With more time spent in a virtual world, it has been shown that children have a harder time discerning between what is real and what is fake and they also tend to develop a more casual manner of writing (which seems to be more apparent now than ever with “text-speak”), which translates into different realms, including academics. In a recent study, it was found that 36.7% of those children studied showed signs of problematic internet usage including poor coping skills and interpersonal relationships (Milani, Osualdella & Di Blasio, 2009). Social networking websites have the ability to overtake actual social interactions, potentially causing rates of problematic internet usage to increase. According to Facebook’s internal statistics, there are currently over 500 million active users who spend more than 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook. That equals out to an average of 1400 minutes for every user per month, or just over 45 minutes per day per user (Facebook, 2010). Although Facebook caters primarily to adult and teen users, children also have the ability to get accounts on social networking sites such as Facebook, or on websites made for young users such as Webkinz.com, which melds online social networking, online gaming, and physical furry pets together.
With skyrocketing internet and cell phone usage amongst children, diagnosed mental disorders and the prescription of medications is also going up at a seemingly exponential rate. With nearly 20 percent of office visits in 2002 being reported to be for psychosocial issues (Center of Disease Control and Prevention, 2002), psychological ailments are becoming as common, or more common, than many other physical health problems among children. Between 1991 and 2000, prescriptions for these medications rose 500%, and in 2002, included some 10.8 million prescriptions for psychiatric medications (Roberts, 2006). Roberts and other psychologists have cited that medicating children can be very beneficial for a number of reasons, but not necessarily for the child’s wellbeing. Although parents might be able to have their child calm and in control after paying for a single, short psychological assessment, the child and parents do not necessarily learn anything from being medicated. Medication also allows for schools in some areas to receive more funding, says Roberts, and only the child in the situation loses.
Instead of medication, there are many very helpful alternatives to help children’s wellbeing in a wide variety of cases. Counseling is an often overlooked or underappreciated method that has been shown to be very helpful for children with different psychosocial issues. One beneficial attribute about counseling, apart from the lack of negative side-effects pertaining to chemical medications, is that the parents can also be targeted and be made into more effective parents, as their child is being made into a healthier person. In a New York Times video article, parents and their children who had psychosocial difficulties were interviewed. It was shown that counseling could be a very effective, and healthy alternative to medication, and that targeted medicating could be paired with counseling practices to be very effective for children with fewer side effects (New York Times, 2010).
In the present day, we tend to rely on increasingly modern technology for our communications, health, transportation, and even to raise our children. In recent decades, television has been one method of entertaining our children that was criticized for being unhealthy, but it was limited in its ability to engulf their life. Today, cell phones and computers allow children to become more connected to technology than ever before. Although there are many benefits to digital technology usage, it can easily become a substitute for adequate parenting, and can also open the doors of mental health issues and child predators to our young ones. Where digital technologies can become a crutch for parents in regards to raising their children with a healthy mental standing, medications can be a window for parents to open when their children are having psychosocial difficulties. Although these medications can be incredibly effective and seemingly harmless, they can be much more safely substituted with what has been used for years: genuine love and caring, and good parenting on behalf of a mother and father.
Where arranging a major event or talking to a friend living on the other side of the country is but a click (or finger tap) away, it can be easy to let technological advancements take hold of every aspect in our lives, including our children. It might be easy to forget how dangerous text messaging while driving is until you have harmed yourself or someone else, it can also be easy to forget how dangerous taking the easy way out can be in regards to our children. Modern technology is just that, modern. After over a century of driving automobiles, we still have not perfected their safety, and likewise, we have not perfected the safety of modern devices and medications. Although not perfect, there is no substitute for good parenting and healthy living. Modern technology might help us achieve those ends, but if high-tech becomes the end, what then are the means?
Mann, D. (2008, September 19). Cell phone use linked to male infirtility. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/infertility-and-reproduction/news/20080919/cell-phone-use-linked-male-infertility
Marbin Miller, C, & Caputo, M. (2010, April 30). Effort to protect children from overmedication fails. Retrieved from http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/04/30/1605341/effort-to-protect-children-from.html
McGarty Webb, M. (2010, November 10). Kids and cell phones: is it right? if so, when and how?. Retrieved from http://www.greenwichcitizen.com/news/article/Kids-and-cell-phones-Is-it-right-If-so-when-807149.php
“Medicating Children.” Video Library – The New York Times. Web. 4 Oct 2010. .
Milani, L., Osualdella, D., & Di Blasio, P. (2009). Quality of interpersonal relationships and problematic Internet use in adolescence. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12(6), 681-684.
Physorg.com. (2010, February 15). Five billion people to use phones in 2010. Retrieved from http://www.physorg.com/news185467439.html
Child development and the internet. (2002). Retrieved from http://www.verdick.org/child-development-and-the-internet
Roberts, E.J. (2006, October 8). A rush to medicate young minds. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/06/AR2006100601391.html