We’ve pointed out for a while now that every generation seems to have some sort of moral panic over whatever is popular among kids. You’re probably aware of more recent examples, from rock music to comic books to Dungeons and Dragons to pinball machines (really). Of course, in previous generations there were other things, like chess and the waltz. Given all that, for years we’ve urged people not to immediately jump on the bandwagon of assuming new technology must also be bad for kids. And, yet, so many people insist they are. Senator Josh Hawley has practically trademarked his claim that social media is bad for kids. Senator Lindsey Graham held a full hearing all of which was evidence free, moral panicking about social media and the children — and because of that he’s preparing a new law to completely upend Section 230 in the name of “protecting the children” from social media.
Not that it’s likely to stop grandstanding politicians, but over in academia, where they actually study these things, there’s a growing consensus that social media and smart phones aren’t actually bad for kids. While some academics made claims about potential harm a decade or so ago, none of their predictions have proven accurate, and even some of those academics have revised their earlier research, and in one case even admitting that they caused an unnecessary panic:
The debate about screen time and mental health goes back to the early days of the iPhone. In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a widely cited paper that warned doctors about “Facebook depression.”
But by 2016, as more research came out, the academy revised that statement, deleting any mention of Facebook depression and emphasizing the conflicting evidence and the potential positive benefits of using social media.
Megan Moreno, one of the lead authors of the revised statement, said the original statement had been a problem “because it created panic without a strong basis of evidence.”
A few different “studies of studies” are showing that there’s little to no evidence to support harm from these popular technologies.
The latest research, published on Friday by two psychology professors, combs through about 40 studies that have examined the link between social media use and both depression and anxiety among adolescents. That link, according to the professors, is small and inconsistent.
“There doesn’t seem to be an evidence base that would explain the level of panic and consternation around these issues,” said Candice L. Odgers, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, and the lead author of the paper, which was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
There’s a lot more in that NY Times article, or you can read through pretty much all of the recent academic research on the topic.
Of course, the real question is just how silly will Senators Hawley, Graham and others look as they continue to insist that social media and phones are harming the children?
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