Screen Time Part I: The Problem (Next Generation Behavioral Health podcast)

Screen Time Part I: The Problem (Next Generation Behavioral Health podcast)


[Dr. Christina Armstrong] Hello, and welcome
to “Next Generation Behavioral Health”. [Dr. Julie Kinn] 10-minute tips for modernizing
patient care. [Armstrong] I’m Dr. Christina Armstrong. [Kinn] And I’m Dr. Julie Kinn. [Armstrong] Today, we’re going to talk about
the dark side of screens and internet and technology, although in this podcast, we talk
about all the benefits of mobile health. We get asked often, is there any harm in looking
at these screens and accessing internet and social media as often as we see? [Kinn] Our participants at our workshops,
for example, always say, “Hey, I’m trying to help my service members get away from playing
games on their phone all the time. And now, you’re telling me I should prescribe
them the use of mobile apps.” So yeah, we just want to talk about it. [Armstrong] That’s right. Yeah. So yeah, there’s really been a huge change
in our culture as we’ve all seen in the past decade. Smartphones are attached to us almost 24 hours
a day. Soon as we wake up, chances are you have your
phone within arm’s reach from you, so it– [Kinn] Yeah. It’s our alarm clock. It’s the first thing and last thing we’re
interacting with. [Armstrong] Right. And often, when people wake up, they’ll check
their social media, so it really is. It is a part of how we work, play, and interact
with the world. [Kinn] And it’s a good opportunity for engaging
in health and healthy behaviors. But what does the research say about this? Because Christie, I know you’ve looked at
the research, so lay it on us. [Armstrong] Few months back, I met with Dr.
Jean Twenge. She is a researcher on generational differences. What does that mean? We have the baby boomers, which are the generation
of about 1946 to 1964. We have Generation X, those born between 1965
and 1979, which I’m a part of and you are a part of. Go Xers [laughter]. Yes. [Kinn] Now, the truth is out. [Armstrong] The truth is out. We can’t hide it, and that’s OK. Then we have the wonderful millennial generation,
those born between 1980 and 1994. But Dr. Twenge is proposing a name for this
new generation. She calls it iGen. And that is those born between 1995 and 2012,
so. [Kinn] So that’s like iPhone but iGen. [Armstrong] Yes. Exactly. Yeah. And so the way she sort of describes this
is, this is the first generation to spend their entire adolescence with smartphones. [Kinn] Yeah. That’s a big difference. [Armstrong] What she’s finding is there’s
some really negative health outcomes that are popping up here and that it may be related
to smartphones just being an extension of ourselves in ways that are not so good. [Kinn] Like what? [Armstrong] What she’s finding is that this
new generation is sleeping far less, symptoms of depression and anxiety are far higher than
we’ve seen in any other generation. And also, most startling is that instances
of self-harm and rates of suicides are higher now in this young young age group, which is
really startling. And of course, we can’t directly correlate
this with smartphones, but it is only in this past decade that we’ve seen not only this
entire change in smartphone culture but also these startling changes in these negative
health outcomes. [Kinn] OK. So the sleep line, I get that. Because if we’re using cell phones all the
time, not just the blue light aspect of the phones but just the engagement and activation,
I could see how that affects sleep. We know that. But what about these other things: the depression,
anxiety, and the suicide? [Armstrong] There’s a couple things going
on here. First of all, this newer generation, she describes
it as engaging in less indicators of independence than other previous generations. They’re getting driver’s licenses later. Second I turned 16, on my birthday, I went
to go get my driver’s license, and that’s probably true for most people in our generation,
right? We were eager to get out the door. They’re getting jobs a lot later. For example, I had my first job when I was
15. That was, you know, fairly common for then. [Kinn] Sure. [Armstrong] Other things like engaging in
social activities with your friends like going to parties. If you’re 15 or 16 and you’re in previous
generations, you did all these kind of activities. [Kinn] Like you said, it’s correlational not
causational data that we’re looking at here. But what do we take away from this? I mean, what’s the bottom line from her research? [Armstrong] What the new generation is doing. Instead of engaging in all these activities
of independence, they’re engaging in this internet use, smartphone use, social media,
texting, chatting. All of that is filling up so much of their
time, and the time we’re talking about is just staggering. They’re not having any extra time to build
all these independent living skills, really. And the long-term impact is they are just
not as happy as they were. You may feel happy in the moment when you’re
looking at that screen and on social media, but the research does not bear that out. They’re actually more depressed, far more
symptoms of depression and loneliness and anxiety. [Kinn] I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I mean,
what strikes me is that the kind of activities we’re talking about on screen here, it’s not
dark web. We’re not talking about nefarious activities. We’re talking about social media use and gaming
and just the general kinds of activities. [Armstrong] That’s right. But it’s not a replacement for real interaction. So here’s some interesting stats. How much screen time are we talking about? So iGen high school seniors spent an average
of six hours a day on new media. So this is during their “leisure” time. So that means it’s taking up all that other
time that you and I had as seniors doing whatever we did. They’re now filling it up with all this with
a screen on their face, and this is really interesting. If we go down to eighth grade – so these are
middle schoolers – they had very similar rates with about five hours a day. How old are your kids now, Julie? [Kinn] I have a 12-year-old and an 8-year-old. [Armstrong] And are they already asking for
a smartphone or do they already have a smartphone? [Kinn] Oh, of course. No. No. They’re asking for it. They’re begging. They’re making all the arguments. [Armstrong] Yes. Yes. So are mine, seven and nine. And many of their friends already have smartphones. They have complete access to the internet. [Kinn] And for some families, that makes a
lot of sense, especially for families where the parents don’t live together. Or there’s other considerations. Sometimes, kids do need cell phones, but it’s
important to consider it before giving it. [Armstrong] Yep. The other thing I want to talk about is, what
types of increase in symptoms are we seeing? So from 2012 to 2015, they saw sharp increase
in depressive symptoms. So that’s really very specific, and this is
over decades and decades of research. We just saw the startling climb. So this increase was most shocking for girls
with about 22% in 2012, which is pretty high, but this increased to 32% in 2015. So this has increased since then. So she found also increased incidences of
self-harm and suicide were gone up, so we’ve got a serious situation. And no, I’m not saying that smartphones are
bad. [Kinn] No. I mean, we’re the first people to prescribe
them. [Armstrong] Right. Right. So what can we do here? [Kinn] Clearly, this is a problem whether
or not we can attribute all of the current issue to screen usage. The fact that we’re talking about six hours
a day here is a major issue, not that every minute of my day as an adolescent was well
spent, mind you. I think you’ve given us all a lot of food
for thought, and I’m wondering if we can continue this conversation in our next episode and
talk about practical solutions not just for managing our own children but especially for
our patients and our military service members. Many of them are E1s, E2s, E3s. They’re adolescents still, and so I’m guessing
a lot of these same factors are going to play out especially as that iGen moves into active
duty status. I mean, a few years from now, that’s who our
active duty service members are going to be. [Armstrong] That’s right. That sounds great. [Kinn] So listeners, Stay tuned. Next time, we’ll come back with some practical
solutions. So this was the dark side, and next time will
be the light side. Is that fair? [Armstrong] Yeah. The light side. We’ll go to the light side. [Kinn] And listeners, feel free to send in
your questions and suggestions. Our email address is in the show notes, but
of course, you can connect with us on social media. We’re @MilitaryHealth. “Next Generation Behavioral Health” podcast
is produced by the Defense Health Agency.

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