It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones. - Dr. Jean Twenge
There’s a looming crisis emerging across America that many are calling the greatest challenge of our generation. In the last 10 years alone, rapid expansion of electronic devices has ushered in a radical shift in how the vast majority of American children utilize technology. The debate over screen time and the effects of increased exposure to digital devices continues to heat up, but as recently noted in The Wall Street Journal, the facts are becoming clear: near-constant use of the Internet has more than doubled since 2012, and the signs are point toward it having dramatic impacts on our mental and physical health.
Our children are the most at risk. U.S. teenagers consume nearly nine hours of media a day on average, and 70% of teenagers use social media multiple times a day. The effects of tech addiction have been well documented, and range from causing mild social anxiety to serious mental health issues. As recently documented by The Atlantic, rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed in the last 8 years, much of which has been traced cell phone usage. Teenagers who spend three or more hours a day on electronic devices are 35% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, and four times as many Americans take antidepressants now than they did just twenty years ago. Even more shocking, some brain imaging research links the effect that digital devices have on our brains as equal to that of drugs, such as cocaine. While more scientific studies still need to be conducted to confirm those early findings, it has been definitively demonstrated that long-term, frequent use of technology is directly correlated to:
- Increased anxiety and clinical depression
- Diminished quality and quantity of sleep
- Lack of concentration and problem-solving skills
- Increased reported rates of loneliness and suicidal tendencies
For many, tech addiction isn’t the worst part. A far more sinister side of the Internet is overtaking the screens of children across the country. The rise of wide-spread access to illicit content and graphic material has millions of Americans concerned. 93% of youth are exposed to graphic adult content during adolescence, usually as young as 13 or 14. While many site use of pornography as a matter of choice, the issue lies in the accessibility of pornographic to younger and younger audiences, often who are introduced to the content without specific intent. Generations of Americans are growing up being exposed to graphic content at earlier ages, which has been shown to influence distorted views of sex and relationships. Research into the effects of early and/or frequent exposure to pornography point to an alarming connection to increases in sexual assault and a correlation to shaping a viewers ideas around sexuality, intimacy, and power dynamics.
The sheer influx of pornographic content, and the accessibility of it, is staggering. In a scathing indictment of the effects of pornography, The New York Times reported that in 2017 alone there were 28.5B visits to a single porn website, which is more daily traffic than most media giants receive, including sites like Twitter, Wikipedia, Instagram, Reddit, Netflix, and ESPN.com. The problem has begun to be widely documented by psychologists and researchers, with recent studies finding that pornography:
- Is highly addictive for a majority of users
- Drives unhealthy physiological changes, including increased aggression
- Warps views on relationship dynamics including love, intimacy, and power
- Can be a driver for demand for child sex trafficking
For many, pornography has become not just a matter of moral objection, but a serious health concern. In fact, 10 states have already passed legislation declaring that pornography is a public health crisis, and more are expected to follow suit. Just recently, popular sites including Tumblr and Reddit have come under fire for hosting adult material with little-to-no age restrictions, and in some cases, these sites have even become a conduit for the dissemination of child pornography.
While some have called for tighter age controls on content or even greater censorship, to date, there has been little innovation to address these challenges in a practical and viable way that ensures the Internet remains open, while keeping future generations of Americans safe.