Section by Greg Foley
The Impact of Psychiatric Medications and Information Technology on Child Development
Technology impacts many facets of human life, from the wheel to help increase productivity and mobility, to the electric light-bulb to allow us to stay active after dark without the aid of fire, to space travel which led to a variety of technologies to be passed on to consumers including satellite communications and memory foam. Although technological advancements have a great impact on all of us, they could possibly have no greater impact on anyone other than our children. Where each generation sees exponentially greater advancements than the generation prior, this journey begins at birth and how children interact with these advancements depends on the ideas and beliefs of their parents and generations that have come before.
For this research, I was interested in particular about the effects of two broad areas of technology on young people’s psychology: internet and cellular phone technology, and psychiatric drugs. Being in the psychology field with a desire to pursue counseling, this topic has a particular academic interest for me. Also, being technologically inclined and educated, I feel very interested in this topic.
I began my research with the topic of psychiatric medications on young people. What started my research on this topic was a video that we had watched earlier in the composition class titled “Medicating Children” by The New York Times. This video touches a chord with me as it shows different situations of young children who have been medicated with powerful psychotic drugs. This practice is becoming more popular in today’s society with many parents and physicians opting to use drugs to treat behavioral and attentional issues rather than changing parenting styles or issues at home (The New York Times, 2010). Many classes in K-12 schools include several children who are being medicated for a variety of psychological issues including depression, trauma, and attentional issues such as ADHD. In the Washington Post article “A Rush to Medicate Young Minds”, the author, a child and adolescent psychologist, speaks to the overwhelming increase of diagnosis and treatment for childhood psychiatric conditions in recent years (Roberts, 2006). This begs the question then if there is actually an issue with the increase of medication. Diagnosis techniques might be improving, and medications might be becoming more powerful and focused, but improved techniques and medications might not be the reason for the massive increase in prescriptions. The author cites that the numbers are especially high because it is easier for physicians to prescribe medication rather than talk to parents about their parenting habits and styles. Where it might be very difficult to confront parents about how their disciplinary techniques or personalities are having a negative effect on the well-being of their child, it is much easier to prescribe a medication to sedate the child to make him or her more complacent and behave in a manner that is in accordance to the parents’ will. During my time working with youth myself, I have felt the same way in regards to parental interaction with their children. This article supported my views that, oftentimes we seek a “quick-fix” rather than a permanent one, and oftentimes the permanent fix is also the more challenging to implement and carry out.
Continuing my research, I wondered what dialogue (if any) was happening in the political realm regarding this issue. I found an article posted by the Miami Herald about a measure that went to vote which did not pass in state congress. This bill, if passed, would have imposed restrictions on psychiatric medications for children and their prescription in light of recent deaths related to the prescription of medications. Although having support from members of both sides of the aisle, it did not pass, leaving the same room open for physicians to prescribe these medications (Miller & Caputo, 2010). I felt that this article in particular helped demonstrate how, even though adverse effects are being shown and argued for in regards to medication, conversation, especially in realms of regulation, is not as prevalent as it should be and is readily being overlooked in light of regulations already in place. Although many people believe that medication is the simplest or most effective manner of helping our children, this isn’t necessarily true. Looking back to the video on “Medicating Children” from the New York Times, there are many alternatives to medication that are very helpful for these children, including counseling and parenting changes (New York Times, 2010). When all is said and done however, medication can also be very helpful, especially when being used in conjunction with these non-chemically induced techniques.
Another area where technology has had a similar social and psychological effect on children is in the realm of digital information technology. In an article by Physorg.com, over five billion people worldwide are expected to have cellphones by the end of 2010. This number is due to the prevalence of cellular phones in Western nations, and the exponential growth of devices in other countries where cell phones especially help with financial stability and health and medications (Physorg.com, 2010). With so many cell phones in the pockets and purses of people worldwide, they are also making their way into the hands of young children who obtain their cell phone for a number of reasons.
Armed with knowledge on the prevalence of cell phones worldwide, I sought out to learn about different viewpoints and attitudes toward cellular technology in the hands of young people. In the Greenwich Citizen article “Kids and Cell Phones: Is it right? If so, when and how?”, the points of view for pro, and anti cell phone were presented. In defense of cell phones for children, parents cited that their kids having a phone allowed them to keep better track of their children and allowed for much greater convenience. On the other hand, cell phones also open children up to a wide variety of challenges and potential risks ranging from disease from radiation, to addiction and sexual predators (McGarty, 2010).
Along the lines of cell phones, the effects of internet usage on the minds of children was also of interest to me in regards to this topic. One blog article, “Child development and the internet”, that I found highlighted the positives and negatives of internet usage among children. The article looked at three broad categories of health: physical, mental/cognitive, and social. The internet can provide positive health in the physical realm through improved reaction time, cognitively in problem solving capabilities, and socially through increased social interaction with peers and with those in other parts of the world. Likewise, there are also negative effects in each of these areas with fatigue and poor physical health, a lack of differentiation between real and fake, and decreased social competency and increased usage of pornography and other potentially harmful content (Verdick.org, 2002). Leading my research academically, this information took me to a journal article on problematic internet usage and interpersonal relationships that found 36.7% of participants showed signs of problematic internet usage, including addiction, and in turn, higher levels of poor coping skills and interpersonal relationships (Milani, Osualdella & Di Blasio, 2009).
This research has led me to see both the positive, and negative effects of medical and information technology on our children today. As technology and advancements are at the forefront of our lives and are important considerations every day, we should keep them in mind when thinking of our children and their health and well being. As the larger group project is regarding the health of children and their development on many different fronts, I feel that looking at the psychological impact that our choices in the areas of psychiatric medications and technology can have a major impact. Although technological advancements are very important for us to pursue and integrate into our lives, it is also very important to look at the impact that these advancements are having on the psychological health of our young people and what needs to be done, if anything, to protect future generations and allow them to thrive.