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EDITORIAL: Smartphones can have a toxic downside

Ashcroft Cache Creek Journal - 2/14/2024

Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, there was an unfounded panic about the notion that cellphones caused cancer. Science never found any strong link between phone use and physical illness, but over the past decade-and-a-half we have found that cellphones aren't always great for mental health.

When Premier David Eby announced new restrictions on the use of phones by students in B.C. schools, he was flanked by the parents of Carson Clelland, a 12-year-old boy from Prince George who took his own life after he was subjected to online sextortion.

Smartphones have forever changed how people interact with others. Many of these make lives simpler: GPS-enabled maps make it almost impossible to get lost, for example, and a quick text can do everything from adding an item to the family grocery list to reaching out to tell a loved one we care.

But the downsides to smartphones are obvious. Whole new frontiers in bullying, sexual exploitation, and extortion have emerged, and many of them are targeted at children.

Many school districts already strictly limit cellphone use during school hours – though enforcement may vary – but the province will now ask all districts to restrict their use during instructional time.

In his announcement Eby took a particular potshot at social media companies. "Their interest is in keeping kids online, engaged in their apps with ever more extreme content, so that they can serve them ads, so that they can make money for their shareholders," he said.

It should be noted that social media companies are interested in keeping adults online as much as they are kids. But if we think it's bad for kids to have complete access to smartphones all day long, and we think social media is toxic, what does that say about the ways in which many adults use their phones and social media?

What's good for kids is likely pretty good advice for adults as well: most of us could use less screen time.

If you feel as if you are in crisis, or are considering suicide, please call the Crisis Centre BC suicide hotline at 1-800-784-2433.