The report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2018 examined children and youth mental health and how it is affected by the digital age. With approximately half of the world being connected, and their overall reliance on various digital technologies, there have been many concerns regarding its effect on the mental health of our youth (OECD, 2018). It is evident that an increasing number of children today are being exposed to these digital technologies, and at arguably a younger age than ever before. As a result, it is important to consider how this evolving reality affects their mental health.
One of the findings in the article that I found particularly interesting was that it estimated that half of all mental illnesses begin at 14 years old, and that some personality disorders and anxiety disorders begin as early as 11 years old (OECD, 2018). This was especially surprising to me because I would have thought that children at that young of an age would have no really significant issues to need to worry about. Beyond the normal difficulties of attending school, they do not need to worry about taxes, finances, employment, and the many other stressors of adulthood – or even adolescence for that matter. For youth to be experiencing such high levels of anxiety and other mental health concerns is troubling to say the least, and obviously the root causes of this needs to be examined carefully.
I believe there is merit to examining and understanding the impact that digital technologies have on children and youth. Although there are benefits to having children use the internet for education and some socialization (such as during the COVID-19 pandemic), when it is used excessively and without supervision, it can have harmful effects on the child’s overall well-being. An article written by Regoli (2018) succinctly pointed out the benefits and disadvantages of digital technology and youth. In general, the benefits include the educational value, preparing children for an increased technological future, and better decision-making skills (Regoli, 2018). However, the disadvantages – promoting a sedentary lifestyle, safety risks, reduced in-person socialization – are also important considerations (Regoli, 2018). This is why it is so important to identify the issues associated with these digital technologies, and ensure that their use does not increase the likelihood of experiencing additional stress and other adverse effects (such as bullying, anxiety, depression).
As an educator and someone who is generally concerned with the health of Canadian youth, it is important to understand the link between childhood mental health and their use of technology. I often wonder whether there should be a greater focus in the elementary school grades about digital literacy. I progressed through the public school system during the technology era as well, but I think technology has advanced rapidly since I graduated from high school. Meanwhile, the availability and use of technology in children has also arguably increased. This is why I think digital literacy courses aimed at online security and an understanding of the risks and healthy etiquette online. For example, understanding that what someone writes, or posts online may have consequences for both oneself as well as others would be prudent. I simply do not think that parents and educators can afford to “bury their heads in the sand” on this issue any longer.
OECD (2018). Children and young people’s mental health in the digital age: Shaping the future. OECD Publishing, Paris.
Rigoli, N. (2018). 16 pros and cons of children using technology. ConnectUs. https://connectusfund.org/16-pros-and-cons-of-children-using-technology