Is Technology Harming Teenagers?

Featured in
New York Times
Published on
September 15, 2018

Readers critique a psychiatrist’s essay debunking claims that technology is causing an epidemic of anxiety. Read the full article here.

To the Editor:

Re “Teenagers Aren’t Losing Their Minds,” by Richard A. Friedman (Sunday Review, Sept. 9):

I agree with much of what Dr. Friedman wrote. At the same time, he misses the mark on some important points.

First, while talking about the “myth” of the teenage anxiety epidemic, he fails to mention that — whatever the cause — by age 18, almost one-third of youths will experience debilitating, clinical levels of anxiety. He quickly dismisses the idea that these alarming rates of anxiety are caused by technology, a viewpoint to which I am sympathetic. Yet, he also dismisses the possibility that technology contributes to the cycle of anxiety in important and preventable ways.

Second, I agree with Dr. Friedman that kids and teenagers are facing an anxiety-provoking world, so distress is largely normal. But to dismiss parents’ instincts that our kids are in trouble and that technology may be part of the problem risks being both misguided and condescending.

Finally, Dr. Friedman argues, like many before him, that smartphones and video games are just another technological innovation that has triggered existential panic. I disagree. There is a qualitative difference between worries about television and “brain rot” and worries about our current digital ecosystem. Television was not designed to mediate our lives, track our every purchase and movement, or listen in on our conversations. My parents never had to worry about internet trolls and haters during Saturday morning cartoons.

Excellent research is underway to tease apart the links between anxiety and technology so that we can find real solutions.

Tracy A. Dennis-Tiwary
New York
The writer is a professor of psychology at Hunter College and primary investigator for its Teen Anxiety and Brain Project.

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