Smartphone use and being constantly connected via social media represents a significant cultural change. And it is one that is affecting young people especially.
A recent op-ed in the Guardian by a teenager named June Eric Udorie elucidates some of the concerns that teens feel about the affect that social media might have on their lives.
"The digital landscape has put increased pressure on teenagers today, and we feel it," writes Udorie.
She tells anecdotes about her own younger sister who tries to access the Internet even after their mother turns off the WiFi at 11 pm.
"A new study has found that teenagers who engage with social media during the night could be damaging their sleep and increasing their risk of anxiety and depression," writes Udorie. Udorie claims that social media use can induce anxiety and that 1 in 5 teens wake in the night to use social media. She explains that loss of sleep can have negative health repercussions for teens.
Udorie also tells a story about losing her phone for a week and the slight relief she felt not being connected. But she also experienced, FOMO, or fear of missing out.
Then she suggests that schools should teach students skills to better navigate anxiety and social media use. "We know that these studies demonstrate that we have to make personal, social and health education (PSHE) statutory in schools and ensure it covers a range of issues from healthy eating and sleeping to consent," she writes.
I agree that cultural change, especially change as radical as the explosion of the use of information technology, should be studied. And I agree that with Udorie that young people should be educated to have a considered and mindful relationship with that technology. Smartphones and social media are changing our most intimate relationships with our families and our friends. They are changing the way we communicate and, I would argue, even the way we think.
But is Udorie's argument that social media negatively impacts teen health a valid one?
If high school students are under-slept and thus underperforming at school, maybe school should start later.
I think that socially related anxiety among teenagers predates social media by at least as long as teenagers have existed.
I'm not arguing that social media is a benevolent force in teenagers lives. But I'm not convinced that it is a malevolent one either.
I do think it is interesting that the Guardian publishes op-eds written by 16-year-olds on their website. It seems like a democratizing act.