Technology Is Making Tweens Miserable Says UK Study

cyber bullying hurtsAccording to a recent UK study performed by the Emerging Scholars’ Intervention Programme, children’s happiness levels begin to decrease after age 11, and technology may be to blame. The study also found that girls are especially vulnerable after this milestone, with boys’ satisfaction levels remaining far more stable. The study surveyed almost 7,000 kids over the course of three years and discovered that this marked decrease in emotional well-being starts sharply at puberty and continues to worsen until around age 16.

Researchers speculate that variables such as the prevalence and availability of online porn, the popularity of sexting and an increase in cyber-bullying may be to blame for this shift in happiness among tweens and teens. Dr. Simon Davey, who leads the Emerging Scholars’ Intervention Programme says:

“Technology and the pace of change have accelerated pressures, made them more extreme and increased competition. Girls in particular are more vulnerable to social pressures affecting their confidence and capability. Measuring well-being one of the ultimate expressions of confidence and capability has been difficult for us but [these] well-being tool helps us take a quantitative view for the students we work with.”

I think it’s very telling that girls’ self-esteem and happiness levels are so much more affected by technology than boys’. It says a lot about our society’s ingrained and ubiquitous sexism, and how it begins in childhood and only gets worse as young girls become young women. Davey goes on to say:

“Their self-esteem levels fall away badly, while boys’ remain relatively stable. Girls start off happier with their friends, but by age 16 this has tumbled below the level for boys. The research is unsettling. Our findings could…reflect recent concerns about the insidiousness of sexism to which girls are now subject: the profusion of sexualized imagery in everyday life; readier access to pornography; and again, new technology, and specifically the ease with which images and videos can be shared among peers.”

Of course, nothing happens in a vacuum, so we can’t put all the blame on technology. It was noted in the report that UK Education Secretary Michael Gove‘s focus on rigor and toughness in schools may negatively impact the confidence-building and support young women need to excel and find satisfaction. The think tank’s Anne Kazimirski says that:

“There is a powerful message for government and charities to take from this data. It isn’t just that that young people are struggling, but that different children will have different needs. What works for boys as they struggle through childhood, for example, may not work at all for girls…If Michael Gove ploughs on without paying attention to these sorts of questions, the need for carefully-tailored help may be overlooked entirely.”

I am uncomfortable with the notion that Gove’s tactics should or would be more effective for male students. There will inevitably be both male and female students for which “toughness and rigor” will work wonders. But for the most part I believe that all students, regardless of sex, could benefit from more support and confidence building.

As for the technology part of the unhappiness equation, I think the answer is for more education about the use of tech resources as well as more parental monitoring. Studies like this make me glad that I chose not to let my oldest have a phone or a social media account yet. It’s some scary stuff.

(Photo: Monkey Business Images/ Shutterstock)

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