Childrearing

Technology Is Making Tweens Miserable Says UK Study

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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)

32 Comments

  1. AP

    May 4, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    I don’t think it’s technology, because I became a lot less happy after age 11, too. The reason? Other girls.

    Boys don’t routinely go to school and get made excluded and tormented by other boys for wearing the wrong socks. Girls do. Boys who fight with their friends usually sort it out and then go on as if nothing happened. Girls who fight with their friends find themselves on the end of a long exclusion campaign of harassment and then have to either beg to be taken back in, or beg to be taken in by other girls as a new friend.

    Plenty of boys get bullied and excluded, but it’s not so deeply encoded in basic male social interactions the way it is for girls.

    • Ell

      May 4, 2014 at 2:47 pm

      Agree. My sister fell into depression at age 11. It was strongly due to bullying from other girls. Her only technology at the time was her discman.

    • Ursi

      May 4, 2014 at 4:01 pm

      This is a big reason most of my friends in high school were male.

    • Lackadaisical

      May 4, 2014 at 5:30 pm

      I went to an all girls school and my brother went to an all boys one. I agree that the pressures and bullying are a bit different. However, while I agree with the assessment of the cattiness of girls during puberty, my experiences were mild compared to the brutality and social pressure my brother went through. It helps that we all wore uniform, removing fashion and clothing expense from the equation. It also makes a difference that competition for the opposite sex was completely absent in both schools. Also British schools don’t have the same clique mentality of US schools (although our view of US schools is exaggerated). My brother and his cronies went through far more bullying than we ever saw in my all girls school. Also my sons are bullied far more, and by boys, than I ever was at their age in a mixed primary school, while girls at their school get a milder yet more continuous bitchiness instead of the hounding the boys who don’t get.

    • itpainsme2say

      May 4, 2014 at 8:53 pm

      This so much. When i was twelve I went to lunch one day and my ‘friends’ wouldn’t even let me sit at their table and had formed a “I hate ‘my name’ club” seemingly overnight. Thankfully i was kind of a floater(i had friends in other circles) so i asked the girl who would become my best friend if i could sit with her so I was never without people to talk to but I never found out why I was ostracized.

  2. AP

    May 4, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    I don’t think it’s technology, because I became a lot less happy after age 11, too. The reason? Other girls.

    Boys don’t routinely go to school and get made excluded and tormented by other boys for wearing the wrong socks. Girls do. Boys who fight with their friends usually sort it out and then go on as if nothing happened. Girls who fight with their friends find themselves on the end of a long exclusion campaign of harassment and then have to either beg to be taken back in, or beg to be taken in by other girls as a new friend.

    Plenty of boys get bullied and excluded, but it’s not so deeply encoded in basic male social interactions the way it is for girls.

  3. Justme

    May 4, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    What I see as a middle school math teacher is the fact that with technology, there is never a break from the drama. They see these kids all day at school, then when they come home there is still Twitter, Instagram, Kik, Snapchat, etc. When I was growing up in the 80s-90s, if I had a crappy day I could come home and be relatively segregated from drama if I wanted to, but kids these days seem to have unlimited access to each other 24/7.

    • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

      May 4, 2014 at 4:36 pm

      This is so true, and I’m glad I didn’t grow up that way! You just used to be able to walk away from people at the end of the day.

    • Justme

      May 4, 2014 at 5:31 pm

      That’s why I recently got off Facebook and stopped blogging. I got tired of keeping up with other people’s crap and never feeling like any part of my life was private…so I stepped out of social media and it has been wonderful.

    • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

      May 4, 2014 at 6:33 pm

      I’ve never had one. Mommyish is as close as it gets for me. People keep trying to convince me, but it’s never going to happen. Sometimes I just don’t WANT people to know what I’m doing.

    • Valerie

      May 4, 2014 at 6:51 pm

      But don’t ever leave M’ish! I always enjoy your POV and funny jokes. 🙂

    • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

      May 4, 2014 at 7:21 pm

      Awwww, internet hugs! 🙂

    • Frances "Librle" Locke

      May 4, 2014 at 5:17 pm

      This is exactly the issue, I think.

    • Justme

      May 4, 2014 at 5:30 pm

      And this is just anecdotal evidence but…the kids whose parents set very appropriate, clear and well-defined boundaries with socialization and technology (and pretty much everything else) tend not to have as much drama while the children of parents who have little to no boundaries in the home and with technology are the ones who are constantly embroiled in some sort of drama.

      I think it’s a top-down management issue – if you’re going to bring technology into your house, you must set some sort of boundaries while also modeling appropriate behavior yourself. Our school district recently provided all students with iPads and several parents have complained to us teachers about how their child is on the iPad all the time and there is just so much drama back and forth with other kids. But when we ask about the expectations and boundaries they’ve placed on iPad usage in their home…they say they don’t have any because it’s just so hard. Sigh.

    • Valerie

      May 4, 2014 at 5:21 pm

      This is so true. You could retreat whenever you wanted to pre-social media. Now, it’s really not an option to escape. Makes me very nervous for my kids one day.

    • Justme

      May 4, 2014 at 5:25 pm

      What you wrote down below is completely true as well. If something mortifying happened to us as teenagers, it was forgotten about relatively quickly but now it’s Instagrammed and posted to YouTube in a matter of minutes for public consumption.

    • Valerie

      May 4, 2014 at 5:37 pm

      I’ve said it many times- that FB and IG would have made my teen years so much harder and my job search fruitless. Lol. My college years being documented on the web would not have been good for my future. 😉 We are lucky and I feel bad for our kids in this respect. They have to think a lot harder about the consequences and permanent evidence of their actions than we ever did.

  4. Kay_Sue

    May 4, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    I think technology may exacerbate tendencies that are already there. Although there does not seem to be data to compare this against, I would be willing to lay money that this is not a new trend. Not only do you have more pressures kicking in, but you have puberty, a period of change and upheaval for the female body. I can’t speak for guys, but I definitely remember feeling a bit like an alien in my own skin. You are growing into a whole new role and it can be frightening and confusing, to say the least.

    • Valerie

      May 4, 2014 at 5:42 pm

      I very much remember those feelings. And wanting to disappear when anyone noticed my maturing body.

    • Kay_Sue

      May 4, 2014 at 5:45 pm

      And the awful part is, EVERYONE feels terrible. Nobody wins. I was a “late bloomer”, and yet, it was alienating to feel that I was so far behind the girls around me. You feel immature and out of place. On the flip-side, my friend matured quickly, and was quite buxom by the time we were freshmen, and she faced all of the alienation and out of place-ness too.

    • Valerie

      May 4, 2014 at 6:02 pm

      So true. Ugh, I hurt for my daughter about 7 years from now.

    • Kay_Sue

      May 4, 2014 at 6:05 pm

      I hear you. But you’ve got time to prepare and I’m certain if anyone call pull it off, you can. 😛

    • Valerie

      May 4, 2014 at 6:19 pm

      Aww, thanks for the vote of confidence. 🙂

  5. Valerie

    May 4, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    When I was 15, I would go Cosmic bowling on Saturday nights and half the high school would be there. I’m fortunate that I was well-liked and really never bullied or teased but one Saturday, a few popular senior boys went to the karaoke mic and made up a dumb song about me and my boobs (they were quite large for a girl my age). Naturally, I was mortified and everyone laughed. I left crying and spent the whole next day dreading going to school. Turns out, I didn’t need to worry as other than my good friends asking if I was ok, no one else mentioned it. It was forgotten as quickly as it happened. I imagine how it could have gone down in 2014 with 50 iPhones capable of video. I may have made YouTube or at least some FB feeds and getting over it would have taken much longer. So yeah, I can see how tech can make certain teens less happy. The bad things that happen being recorded and stretched out to last longer sounds like a nightmare for the average teen.

    • Butt Trophy Recipient

      May 5, 2014 at 1:06 pm

      We need more pictures of said boobs… errr… for context of the story.

  6. Ursi

    May 4, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    I totally believe it. Being plugged in all the time is exhausting and you never get a break from it. It’s all kinds of social pressure and it isn’t even a real social life. I think that internet lets us get too close to one another without the buffer of time to ease intimacy. That’s very stressful. You’re constantly comparing your life to that of every other person you interact with.

    • Valerie

      May 4, 2014 at 5:23 pm

      This can be stressful for grown adults. The FB and IG comparisons. I can’t imagine those feelings and that pressure for a teen when you are far less equipped with wisdom and the gift of perspective. Everything is a life-ruining crisis at that age.

    • Justme

      May 4, 2014 at 5:33 pm

      And so much of a teenager’s self can be wrapped up in their social media persona – how many “likes” a picture got, or how many followers they have on Twitter. When so much of their lives is based in technology, their self-worth becomes dependent on the amount of social media feedback.

  7. CW

    May 4, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    I would be willing to bet that if this poll had been taken 25 years ago when I was in middle school, the same results would’ve been found despite no internet and hardly anyone having cell phones. Girls are VICIOUS to each other in middle school. Technology may make it easier to do some forms of bullying, but it can also help tweens find their “tribe”. So on the whole, I’d say it has a neutral impact.

    • Justme

      May 4, 2014 at 9:02 pm

      Do you work with teenagers on a daily basis?

  8. VivianBates

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