A longtime Wall Street Journal children’s book reviewer believes the latest brain science should urge parents to adopt an ambitious goal: reading aloud to their children for one hour every night. Meghan Cox Gurdon’s new book,The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in an Age of Distraction, delves into how listening to a story transcends anything digital when it comes to brain development and provides an antidote to fractured attention spans and disconnected families in the tech era. —K.C.
Researchers have recently linked increasing smartphone usage to worsening mental health in teenagers. Now some psychologists and app developers wonder whether they can use the device causing the problem to predict when a teen is likely to have a mental health crisis.
Depression rates of 12- to 17-year-olds rose to 13 percent in 2017, up from 8 percent in 2010. This spike, along with increasing suicide rates—suicide is now the second leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 10 and 34—has mental health professionals scrambling for answers. Studies show some teens struggle with anxiety and depression because they feel they need to maintain their image on social media. Many feel worse about themselves after scrolling through other people’s Snapchat and Instagram posts.
After a teen livestreamed her suicide on Facebook in 2017, the social media platform announced it would start monitoring keywords that might indicate when people intend to harm themselves. “In the last year, we’ve helped first responders quickly reach around 3,500 people globally who needed help,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in November.
Now researchers at Google and a tech company called Mindstrong are developing apps that can predict a person’s mental health. Stanford University, UCLA, and the University of Illinois at Chicago are also testing mental health apps, none of which are publicly available yet. The apps look at things like changes in typing speed, voice tone, word choice, and how often teens stay home to identify an increased risk of depression or suicide. Some of the programs in development periodically ask teens how they’re feeling.
But such monitoring of teens raises ethical concerns, too. Do teens have a right to privacy? Does constant surveillance impinge upon freedom of mind? Are data-collecting giants like Facebook and Google mainly concerned with keeping people plugged in? Laurel Foster, a 15-year-old participant in a Stanford University study involving about 200 teens, said using the smartphone app felt like being spied on, but she added that with many online sites already tracking users’ habits, “one more isn’t really a big difference.” —Collin Garbarino