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Technology and our children’s mental health

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By Jackie Rainford Corcoran EBS Health Columnist

The September 2017 issue of The Atlantic on how technology is affecting our children’s health is getting a lot of press—both good and bad. The author, San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge, has been studying generational differences for 25 years.

Her provocative article titled “Have smartphones destroyed a generation?” asks an intriguing question and gives one pause. We are in unchartered territory when it comes to technology. Never before has a generation had potentially unlimited access to a powerful, hand-held personal computer from the time they’re born.

Twenge argues that because of this, kids today are “on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades.”

The outcomes of this historic shift could be far-reaching. The generation that Twenge refers to, which she aptly dubbed iGen, was born between 1995 and 2012. This makes them 5 to 22 years old —not old enough to fully know the effects.

Among other observations, Twenge notes that teenage behavior trends have increased since the iPhone was released in 2007.

Along with other thought-provoking claims, Twenge says that her data shows iPhone and social media use is causing teen suicide rates to go up. While statistics are often easy to rebuke, accurately measuring the rate of teen suicide in the U.S. seems plausible. But is technology the cause? Some experts are pushing back, saying that Twenge’s data shows correlation but not causation.

As a holistic health coach, reading about the rising rate of teen suicide compels me to try and see the bigger picture.

What are the trending patterns of sleep, diet and exercise among this generation? What’s the role of our economy, educational system, parenting practices and overarching culture? Is there a link between suicide and prescription drug use?

These are not questions to be thought about in a vacuum. Each community and family has its own unique way of doing things. Many conversations need to be had. If we approach these topics with curiosity and a willingness to listen to each other (including our children) without judgment, we could tap into these issues on a local level—perhaps where they matter most.

There is tremendous potential for leadership here. When we have personal confidence in the value that we bring to the world along with authentic humility, we pass this on to our children, students and mentees. We arm them with the inner strength and wisdom of knowing that meaning, acceptance and love does not come from outside of ourselves. It comes from within.

When we strive to become the best and healthiest version of ourselves, we lead by example. How do each of us approach mental, physical and spiritual health? And what’s our own relationship with our devices? Do we leave others feeling lonely and isolated because we disengage in favor of screens?

Technology is indifferent to our wants and needs. It’s a tool. We can use it to make our lives richer or squander away time and disconnect from the rest of the world. The choice is ours.

I hope we rise above blaming and shaming technology and a generation of children who happened to be born at the advent of the iPhone.

Today, our country would be well served if we focused on building each other up and consciously coming together in new and innovative ways. And in doing so, there’s a good chance technology will play a part in making it possible.

Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach, culture consultant and public speaker. For a complimentary health consultation, reach her at

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