Is tech responsible for children’s anxiety?

30 May 2024

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Links are often drawn between increasing mental health struggles among children and their use of tech. But is that oversimplifying the problem?

There has been a lot of discussion lately around the topic of children and technology – particularly the negative effects it can have on them.

It’s undeniable that issues exist within the online world that can be detrimental to both children’s and adults’ mental health. Dark patterns within algorithms are designed to keep us engaged against our better judgement. Reducing harmful content has become an endless game of ‘whack-a-mole’. And cyberbullying remains a constant concern.

But do these very real issues mean all tech is bad for children? Can we really throw a blanket over all technology devices and hope the problems go away?

This seems to be what regulators are hoping for with attempts to ban tech for kids by governments around the world. The US, the UK and France are just some examples of these discussions, with different arbitrary age limits suggested.

In the latest episode of For Tech’s Sake, hosts Jenny Darmody and Elaine Burke discuss the sudden uptick in debates and panic around children having smartphones and too much tech in general.

In the episode, they discuss US psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s recent book, The Anxious Generation, which essentially connects increasingly anxious children with an overattachment to technology and deems the latter as the cause for the former.

However, it’s important to note that correlation is not the same as causation and critics of the book have said that this an oversimplification of the problem. Additionally, a review in Nature said the core argument of Haidt’s book “is not supported by science”.

Furthermore, the broadly positive effects of being online are actually backed up by bodies of evidence. But amidst all this conflicting information, what can parents do?

To find out, Burke and Darmody spoke to Paula Walshe, an expert in early childhood education who believes teaching positive tech use from a young age is the way forward.

“Children will model behaviour that they see in the world around them, and the behaviour that they’re looking at first and foremost is what’s within their immediate environment in the home,” she said. “I think that is probably where we need to be starting.”

Walshe also explained how important and valuable a quality tech education can be for kids – and busts the myth that this is just about kids on screens.

Check out the latest episode of the season and subscribe to For Tech’s Sake wherever you get your podcasts. You can also become a Headstuff+ Community member to access bonus episodes of the show.

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