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MIDVALE, Utah — Dozens of students, parents and teachers attended a youth protection meeting at Midvale Middle School to discuss the impact smartphones are having on our children’s mental health.
You’ll find electronics in our schools, our homes and, perhaps most often, in our hands. On Tuesday, a mental health expert said that reality shows in the increasing number of children who are struggling with mental health challenges like depression and anxiety.
“I use it like every day,” said 12-year-old Lucy Nelson of her smartphone. “To text my mom and dad or to play a game on it. So, pretty often throughout the day.”
She’s one of dozens of students, parents and teachers who attended the meeting Tuesday, where clinical psychologist and mental health counselor Dr. Christy Kane warned parents about the impact our smartphones are having on our children’s mental health.
“Yeah we do have a crisis today among our young people,” she said. Kane pointed to the Pew Research Center, which found kids spend an average of six-and-a-half hours on their electronic devices every day, not including schoolwork.
Kane also said other evidence-based research showed when young people spend more than three hours a day on their devices, there is a 70% increase in their chances of struggling with depression and anxiety.
I’m not anti-electronics. What I’m about is balance.
–Dr. Christy Kane, clinical psychologist and mental health counselor
But in a world of ever-increasing dependence on electronics, how do you strike the right balance?
“That’s the point,” Kane said. “Electronics aren’t going away. It’s part of our lives. Kids are going to continue to use them. It’s their social network. It’s how they do a lot of their education work. So the key is balance.”
Parents in attendance at the youth protection meeting echoed similar concerns.
“You feel like you’re not doing the right thing,” said Matt Nelson, who’s a father of two children and the principal at East Midvale Elementary. “How addictive they are, how purposely addictive they are — that was surprising to me.”
Kane said electronics have their place among us, as long as there’s a balance. She gave several recommendations for parents to help protect their children.
“Make sure electronics are never in the bedrooms,” she said. That’s extremely important.” Kane said even if they never use them, research showed that just having the electronics in their room impacted their sleep.
“Parents just need to increase the activities outside the electronic world that help the teenagers balance their brain,” she said.
Kane said that might include memorization activities, exercise, learning an instrument and helping them have spiritual experiences and engage in deep conversation. She suggested making time during the day when devices are put away and children instead get outside and interact face-to-face.
“Go back to playing the old-fashioned board game and communicating,” she said.
You can also feed your kids foods with serotonin, which Kane said is a natural mood stabilizer. And don’t be afraid to set down that controller, phone or tablet and, instead, hold your child.
“Spend time with your children, holding your children,” Kane said. “I tell everybody they should engage in eight hugs a day for eight seconds.”
“That’s not something that my family does on a daily basis,” Lucy said. But after the meeting, her dad said he was already looking forward to having a conversation and reevaluating rules they set up in at home.
“I think it’s important for parents to not suddenly think, ‘oh my gosh electronics are terrible’ and take them away,” Kane said. “I’m not anti-electronics. What I’m about is balance.”