Growing Up in the Digital Age: How Cell Phones Influence Mental Health and Trust

Q: There’s been so much in the news about anxiety and depression among the young. Some studies say there’s a direct correlation with cell phone use. Other studies say not so much. What are your thoughts?

The anxiety and depression of youth, and of the population in general, have a direct correlation to cell phone use and to game playing use. But the factor that is not being connected, one that’s almost equally as important, is that young people today are growing up with the message not to trust anyone. They see adults behaving irresponsibly and immaturely, picking fights, starting trouble, telling lies. Often, this behavior among adults is to promote a view that they hold, saying that the other side is wrong and is not to be trusted. So, the youth today is growing up with a lack of a sense of security and a feeling that adults can’t and shouldn’t be trusted.

If widespread experiments were conducted with communities of children who had phones and then had them taken away, the results would be irrefutable and very clear. It cannot be done with children who have cell phones versus those who don’t, such as the Amish or some other small segments of society, because it’s not a fair comparison. We’d see that if you took children with cell phone use and then removed access, while initially there would be a burst of greater anxiety related to fear of missing out, it would quickly settle down into a more relaxed, calm demeanor.

These kids would then need guidance on what to do for a replacement because, truly, for most youth, and now even most adults, nearly every waking hour not spent working is spent on devices. So yes, the correlation is there for shortened attention spans. The correlation is there for anxiety and depression. The correlation is there for the undermining of trust and confidence. The correlation is there for the increase in the perceived acceptability of rude behavior, bullying, meanness, and abusive language. They have all increased dramatically.

But it is not simply a matter of removing. Because without a replacement, the mind will look for ways to fill the gap on its own. And since the starting place is from anxiety and depression, exhaustion and worry, it would tend to fill the mind up with the same. So, to be a truly useful experiment, there would need to be a replacement activity in one control group, such as meditation, listening to positive information or, learning creative skills, or learning skills of any kind. Versus a control group that just had the devices removed. It would quickly be shown that there needs to be a replacement activity to help encourage the continuation of letting go of the desire and the addiction to these devices. Because this has become so entrenched in the capitalist pursuit—TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube are as much about selling products—it would be very difficult to find support to help you disconnect. A similar version of this story is also true for adults.

Q: What is it about the phones themselves that create anxiety and depression? What’s happening in that experience that’s causing those mental states to occur?

If I told you that you had to start out on a journey, but I didn’t tell you for how long or where the journey would take you, or when it would end, it wouldn’t be long before you would walk faster, you would run, you would feel anxious, you would be looking for where, when, how. This is the effect that scrolling has on the mind. There is no end. There is no destination. There is no completion. But we do get these little hits of excitation, amusement, imagery, and emotional detonation that distract us from the reality that there’s no end. And so, the inclination is to continue to scroll.

Yes, it’s a dopamine hit. But the open-endedness of it all also promotes anxiety. Children are not taught what the cue should be to stop. They are not taught how to set limitations. When the universe is laid before an incompletely formed mind, the mind doesn’t know what to do with all of this information.

Q: Before all these electronic devices, when the previous generations were young, what was the difference? Our minds were still working all the time.

Children of previous generations grew up having to learn how to entertain and amuse themselves. It was not passively provided to them. They had to go outside and create games, determine goals, set up teams, work together, play together, allow for differences. Now everything is so segmented that differences are not normal anymore. That becomes a new segment. So, there’s also a homogeny that dulls the mind and creativity, and creates a thick groupthink that has little to counter it. And each groupthink thinks it is the right one.

While older generations of young children had to face the fear of nuclear extinction, it was mostly an abstract concept. Today’s generations face genuine realities of mass extinctions, global calamities, the inability of adults or countries to work together, the extreme greed of capitalism on display. Billionaires have become the new sports heroes because money has become a game. So, they do not believe in a future based on real potential consequences.

But the main thing is that by giving children cell phones and access to media at such a young age, it literally rewires their brains and closes off parts of their brains or gives limited access to parts of their brains that would encourage a more whole and full development of the complete person.

Q: So going back to the original question, it’s not because anxiety and depression and other mental disorders are more identified out loud these days; it’s because in raw, real numbers, more and more people, more and more kids are feeling just more deeply unsettled. Is that right?

True. More and more are experiencing anxiety and depression, and there are more tools to diagnose it. Both are true.

Q: And some people believe that because it’s identified more that the idea has become normalized or more talked about, some people are gravitating to it and sticking with it, who might not otherwise. So, does it generate its own momentum?

The case could be made that suicide may have a contagious element because when there is one child that commits suicide, it unhinges the bounds on the value of life and may be seen as giving courage to other children. So why would this same not be true of anxiety?

Q: Are the medications available now for these issues helping, or are they just masking the symptoms?

The medications help rewire the brain back to how it should have been wired before the addiction to devices. Many of your questions are not an “either/or.” They are an “and.” Yes, a case could be made that some children are experiencing more anxiety and depression because their friends are experiencing anxiety and depression, and it can become a groupthink. But that is not the main reason. The main reason is that it’s continually being reinforced by levels of insecurity and fear. What children need to feel is a feeling of acceptance, trust, security, and the ability to feel that there is a future. All of which become eroded by everything that is encountered through the media.

But again, capitalism is also a culprit here. If you look at games that are available and considered acceptable for children, there is a high degree of violence or emotionally upsetting situations that are part of the game that the player is supposed to solve. It is truly an abomination.

There is a fear of speaking out directly and firmly on many of these subjects because such a person would be seen as a threat to the masses who wish to continue their addictions.

Q: Most people think capitalism is just the way of life. that it’s Darwinism. It’s how we were made to operate

The original role of capitalism was to facilitate bartering so that more people could get the goods and services they needed. Money became the tender rather than a bartered good. Initially, capitalism was positive and allowed for a flow of goods and services that were needed by many. It was not about greed or Darwinism. It was about the flow of goods and services and making them more accessible to more people.

But then greed entered and became an extremely aggressive cancer. And that is where we are today.

Q: What’s the corrective?

The corrective is a spiritual shift toward remembering humanity. Taking care of each other. Helping each other. Don’t use more than you need. Don’t take more than you need. Help others get what they need. A sharing economy. A caring economy. But in order to get there, there would need to be many people willing to stand up and name the bad behaviors, name the lies, and name the people who are perpetuating the bad behaviors and lies, regardless of what or where they are found.

The challenge is that when a hurricane is in full force, a sane person isn’t going to go outside to start picking up debris to clean up. We are still in the middle of the hurricane. To some extent, a new generation needs to rise up with different values, different morals, and different priorities.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top