Technology is a force that will not be denied – one that continues to become more influential and prevalent in our lives and the lives of our children. We already know that too much time in front of a screen can lead to long-term mental, social and emotional issues, but do we understand to what extent?
Just how much damage is all the social media, texting, streaming and gaming doing to our youth?
While some research has been done, several members of congress are not willing to wait around for more conclusive results. Sen. Michael Bennet introduced a bold proposal that would allot $95 million to the National Institutes of Health with the express purpose of learning more about technology’s effect on infants, children and adolescents.
The bill – called the Children and Media Research Advancement Act (CAMRA) – would distribute the money over the next five years to fund research on exactly how things like video games, social media, cell phones and screens impact how kids come to see the world around them, learn to socialize and develop socially, emotionally and mentally.
“Congress has a vital role to play on matters of public health, but we must act based on sound evidence,” Sen. Bennet told Wired.
The bill has already gained the support and endorsement of Facebook, Common Sense Media and experts in the tech, education and medical fields.
“Parents urgently need independent scientific research into the impacts on our kids of growing up online. Digital devices are constant companions in this digital age, but we don’t understand the impact on child development, education, or overall well-being,” James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense, said in a statement. “Without good research, we are performing an unprecedented experiment on our kids.”
Additionally, the bill has overwhelming support from legislators on both sides of the aisle – highlighting the fact that tech safety is a non-partisan issue.
“What we feed the minds of children is as important as what we feed their bodies. We need to understand it as best we can,” Michael Rich, an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, told CNNMoney. “We need to use data to project forward what can create the healthiest and safest environment in which we are raising kids and interacting with each other.”
Here are a few things we do know:
- Ninety-five percent of families with children age 0 to 8 now have a smartphone.
- Teens report spending nine hours a day with media, including more than four hours a day on their mobile devices.
- Parents spend over nine hours a day on screens at work and at home.
- Half of teens feel addicted to their mobile devices, and the majority of parents (60 percent) feel their kids are addicted.
- Frequent social media use shows a strong correlation to the increase in teen anxiety and depression – heavy users are 56 percent more likely to say they are unhappy; 27 percent more likely to be depressed; and 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide.
- Gaming addiction is officially a mental health disorder.
This is a drastic change in landscape from 2004 – the first time this bill was introduced before congress. Sen. Joseph Lieberman set out to learn more about “electronic media” and the impact it could have. Unfortunately, that version of CAMRA didn’t even make it past legislative hearings. It was reintroduced in 2005, 2006 and 2007 – right before the iPhone hit the market – but never garnered enough support to become a law.
But times are different now, and the need for this type of research is at an all-time high.
“The Lieberman bills did not attract such bipartisan attention, which I think indicates the difference between the reaction to video games in the 2000s vs the reaction to digital devices and media today,” a policy adviser to Sen. Bennet told Wired. “I’m sure the concerns over video game violence were similar to the concerns about tech addiction, but this moment may be different given the environment we’re in.”
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