Dear Commons Community,
Richard A. Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry and the director of the psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times dispelling the myth that an overindulgence in using technology is contributing to an “epidemic” of teenage anxiety. His main point is that our brains have molecular and structural brakes that control the degree to which they can be rewired by experience. Here is an excerpt.
“We hear a lot these days that modern digital technology is rewiring the brains of our teenagers, making them anxious, worried and unable to focus.
Don’t panic; things are really not this dire.
Despite news reports to the contrary, there is little evidence of an epidemic of anxiety disorders in teenagers. This is for the simple reason that the last comprehensive and representative survey of psychiatric disorders among American youth was conducted more than a decade ago, according to Kathleen Ries Merikangas, chief of the Genetic Epidemiology Research Branch at the National Institute of Mental Health.
There are a few surveys reporting increased anxiety in adolescents, but these are based on self-reported measures — from kids or their parents — which tend to overestimate the rates of disorders because they detect mild symptoms, not clinically significant syndromes.
So what’s behind the idea that teenagers are increasingly worried and nervous? One possibility is that these stories are the leading edge of a wave of anxiety disorders that has yet to be captured in epidemiological surveys. Or maybe anxiety rates have risen, but only in the select demographic groups — the privileged ones — that receive a lot of media attention.
But it’s more likely that the epidemic is simply a myth. The more interesting question is why it has been so widely accepted as fact.
One reason, I believe, is that parents have bought into the idea that digital technology — smartphones, video games and the like — are neurobiologically and psychologically toxic. If you believe this, it seems intuitive that the generations growing up with these ubiquitous technologies are destined to suffer from psychological problems. But this dubious notion comes from a handful of studies with serious limitations.”
“It’s good to keep in mind that the advent of new technology typically provokes medical and moral panic. Remember all those warnings that TV would cause brain rot? Never happened. The notion that the brain is a tabula rasa that can be easily transformed by digital technology is, as yet, the stuff of science fiction.
So don’t assume that there’s something wrong with your kid every time he’s anxious or upset. Our teenagers — and their brains — are up to the challenges of modern life.”
Thank you Dr. Friedman for your opinon and insight!