Dr. Patricia Farrell on Medika Life

Kids’ Cell Phones Are Seen as Causing Too Many Problems: Is It Valid?

Research points to excess cell phone use among children as causing school problems, a lack of socialization, and emotional issues, and there’s a controversy here.

Data often pushes changes when technology makes it imperative that we do so, and today, we are seeing something we’ve never seen before; the persistence of cell phone use by children, whether at home, in school, or out in play areas. Research shows that excessive use has mental health consequences, and they are not encouraging. But aren’t cell phones intended to keep our children safe at school or play?

And should parents be able to check where a child is located using software on their cell phone? Shouldn’t a child be able to call for help on their cell phone when needed? Consider the case of the little 10-year-old girl who was using her cell phone to call for help as she lay next to her dying friend during the Uvalde school shooting.

How many of the above questions can be adequately addressed in the current research? Those who seek to limit children’s cell phone use must provide adequate and validated reasoning for their actions.

In the United States, rates of depression and anxiety were fairly stable in the 2000s. But from 2010 to 2019, many studies found that rates rose by over 50%. The suicide rate for 10–19-year-olds went up by 48%. For girls 10 to 14 years old, it went up 131%.

A study of 12–15-year-olds in the United States found that kids who used social media for over three hours a day were twice as likely to have mental health problems like depression and anxiety.

One more thing to worry about is eating disorders. A review of 50 studies from 17 countries between 2016 and 2021 suggests that constantly seeing unrealistic body images online may lead to an unhealthy sense of self and eating disorders. People think this is a problem that girls have in particular. How about the boys?

The issue was not just in the U.S. Around the same time, trends were seen in Canada, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, the Nordic countries, and other places. Gen Z (people born in or after 1996) has higher rates of anxiety, depression, self-harm, and other related disorders than any other group for which they have data. It is now being considered a sufficiently serious issue to be a possible addiction.

Although most research has focused on how screen time and social media use may affect mental health, there is still another reason to limit children’s access to social media. One study found that there was language delay as well as deficits in problem-solving skills between the ages of 2 and 4 in children who were exposed to excessive screen time.

A new Pew Research Center study of U.S. teens found that many use social media at least once a day, even though there are negative headlines and growing concerns about how it affects young people. Some even said they use it “almost constantly.”

The poll, conducted from September 26 to October 23, 2023, asked 1,453 teens ages 13–17 about their use of social media, the internet, and devices. About nine out of ten teens use YouTube, making it the most popular site. Teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 say they mostly use TikTok (63%), Snapchat (60%), and Instagram (59%).

What Are Some of the Actions to Implement?

The National Conference of State Legislatures has provided a list of states and the steps they are considering or instituting regarding social media. As worries grow about how kids’ use of social media might affect their mental health, lawmakers in some states are proposing rules to keep kids safe while they use the internet and online chat apps like social media. There are bills and resolutions in the law that:

  1. Set up task groups and study commissions.
  2. Set acceptable design standards for each age group and require impact assessments.
  3. Make people prove they are old enough or get permission from a parent to open a social media account.
  4. Add classes or lessons on digital and media literacy for kids in grades K–12.

In 2024, thirty states and Puerto Rico are still outlining laws to pass on the subject.

The American Psychological Association is also asking social media companies to become involved and institute specific practices to protect children who use their platforms. A new report from the APA follows up on its 2023 health advisory. It focuses on social media sites’ design elements and functions that make them unsafe for young people. This new study addresses how these features and functions can be harmful to your mental health and how they can hurt a child’s development.

Yes, there are some exceptions to the new rules or limits. Limiting access to social media could hurt people who get psychological benefits from it, like peer support and access to scientific tools. This is especially true for people who are already at a disadvantage due to poverty or disability.

Verification of age must also ensure that the keeping of official IDs does not exclude some young people, put their privacy at risk, or make it harder for them to stay anonymous on social networks.

The American Medical Association has also provided input on the topic, and there is a Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital where issues are explored. The lab’s mission: “The Digital Wellness Lab is a nonprofit research center seeking to understand and promote positive and healthy digital media experiences for young people, from birth through young adulthood.”

Reading the advisories that various organizations and significant healthcare groups are producing is necessary for parents or anyone else in charge of a child’s care. The issue is one that has serious implications, but common ground must be found in order to protect the children and provide reasonable access to technology that can advance their education and worldview.

Follow this author on Substack


Medika Life has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by Medika Life

Pat Farrell PhD
Pat Farrell PhDhttps://medium.com/@drpatfarrell
I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.


Medika Editor: Mental Health

I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

Patricia also acts in an editorial capacity for Medika's mental health articles, providing invaluable input on a wide range of mental health issues.

Buy this author on Amazon

Connect with Patricia





All articles, information and publications featured by the author on thees pages remain the property of the author. Creative Commons does not apply and should you wish to syndicate, copy or reproduce, in part or in full, any of the content from this author, please contact Medika directly.