Rod Liddle Rod Liddle

Ban smartphones for kids!

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News that almost all young people have gone mental will not surprise anybody who has met any of them recently. However, my suspicion is that while they were probably quite mental to begin with, they have been rendered even more so by constant warnings regarding their mental health by teachers, the mainstream and social media and quite probably their awful parents. It is probably true that 40-odd years ago we rather neglected mental health and became embarrassed when we talked about it – and were apt to use horrible words like ‘mental’ and ‘loony’ when doing so.

The principal symptom is an inability to concentrate on stuff – it’s all there in the name

The question, then, is whether we are better off now that we talk about almost nothing else, wrapped in a constant fug which suggests we are all on a one-way ticket to the booby-hatch. Our children are much less happy, that’s for sure. A report from the Children’s Society insists that young people’s mental health continues to decline and that in a class of 30 kids, some five will have mental health ishoos.

But as the Eagles once put it, how does one tell the dancer from the dance? One listens to the stream of propaganda about our general parlous mental health and it is rather as if we had all bought into R.D. Laing’s supposition that mental illness is a sane reaction to a sick society and that not only should mental illness be de-stigmatised, but there is actually something a bit commendable about it and frankly, people who do not suffer from depression, ADHD, anxiety, tendencies to self-harm etc are probably a bit suspect and most likely properly mental themselves. Psychotic, or Conservative or something.

‘It’s amazing how urbanised they are becoming.’

Mental illness is also classed as a disability, whereas in the 1970s this term was used to define people who had lost their legs in a horrific industrial accident often involving a blast furnace or had maybe been born that way as a consequence of chance, genes or questionable first trimester pharmaceuticals. My suspicion is that many of the things which now are classed as a mental illness and hence as a disability are hideously overdiagnosed and overmedicalised. The obvious starting point for this argument is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which seems to afflict an enormous tranche of the population. Previously it was a term used to define the behaviour of horrible lower-class children called Jordan who were incapable of sitting still for five minutes because they were a) thick and b) badly brought up. It was kinda the working-class equivalent of dyslexia. Then the middle class got on the bandwagon big-time and the whole shebang has mushroomed so that 2.6 million of us are suffering from or ‘living with’ the affliction, according to the ADHD society.

The latest data, from the House of Commons Library and widely covered by the right-ish press last week, was that mental illness (and hence disability) had soared among children post the Covid pandemic. One in nine children suffers from a disability, especially behavioural problems such as ADHD. The implication was that lockdown might be in some way to blame for this. Now, I have no doubt that all those lockdowns and furloughs have been deeply injurious and have almost certainly inculcated in many people, especially those in the public sector, a profound disinclination to ever do any work again. I suspect there will also be baleful physical health problems as a consequence too. But a rise in ADHD? I have my doubts that Covid, or our overreaction to it, has been very much to do with that. The rise in the number of cases is a false correlation, I suspect.

Of course, ADHD does exist and un-doubtedly our greater propensity to recognise its symptoms is reflected in the reported increase in the number of people so afflicted. But it is also an over-propensity to diagnose. A study in the American Journal of Attention Disorders reported that ADHD tests led to a high number of people inappropriately diagnosed with ADHD. Writing in Pulse, a British GP called Dr David Turner commented: ‘What I struggle with is the medicalisation of the normal range of neurodiversity. There is no precedent in the natural world where groups of young adolescents are forced to sit still for several hours a day learning abstract concepts, such as maths and English. The fact that most kids do is amazing. Yet we feel that those who struggle to pay attention to the teacher for a required number of hours are in some way abnormal and must be diagnosed with a mental illness and treated with amphetamines.’

Quite. But there is another very obvious answer to the rise in ADHD which, if we took it seriously, might save the vast amount of money the NHS is spending on Ritalin as well as sharpening the national IQ significantly. The principal symptom of ADHD is an inability to concentrate on stuff – it’s all there in the name, ‘attention deficit’. Allied to that is constant fidgeting, being unable to sit still, refusing to wait one’s turn, excessive talking and so on.

This behaviour is precisely what you might expect from someone who spends a disproportionate amount of time on the solipsistic instant gratification of a smartphone. Microsoft did a study which discovered that the attention span of Generation Z individuals was eight seconds, fully four seconds less than the generation which preceded it, the millennials.

There is no other plausible reason for such a shift within such a short space of time. There are plenty of other studies which suggest that people in general – especially young adults and teens – are finding it harder and harder to concentrate, as well as studies which support the link which I have made. So my suggestion is to make it as hard for a child to get his or her hands on a smartphone as it will be for them to get their paws on a vape, and ban them from schools entirely.

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