Our Responsibility to Protect: The Impact and Implications of Communication Technology on Children Today and Tomorrow

The rapid development of technology in recent years has completely morphed the entire landscape of the society we live in. When I think of technology, I first think of one of the most essential components of society – communication technology, including phones, computers, and the internet.

I was too young to experience the beginnings of the internet, but I am quite familiar with the development of this technology. In the past, you would have to disconnect the phone line in order to connect to the World Wide Web, or spend ages figuring out the perfect AIM away message, but now, everything is at your fingertips. Kids are some of the fastest learners and were one the first to truly embrace this new technology, and as electronics developed, they have integrated more and more into the younger community. The internet has become nearly essential for kids around the world, with Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Instagram, Snapchat, and others dominating. You could argue that these mega-corporations and social media platforms were better off not existing, but we all know that communication has vastly improved the way we live. There are countless resources for kids to use online to learn new skills, develop new ideas, and supplement their academic ventures. In addition, children are more connected with others than ever; they can communicate with their friends, peers, parents, teachers, and more, which can significantly help their wellbeing and mental health
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Communication technology is not perfect though, as there are many things online that can harm children, such as inappropriate content, online bullying, and imposter syndrome. What is most concerning is the rise of suicide rates, which goes hand-in-hand with the growth of technology. In just the last twenty years, the overall suicide rate in the U.S. has increased by 35% (“Suicide”, 1). In high school, two of my classmates committed suicide, both my the Class of 2021. From my knowledge, never, since 1985, the founding of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia, had any student commit suicide until my year, and it is absolutely heartbreaking. I had spent late nights working together with one of the suicide victims on a school project due the next day, and texted with him about our current lives or our newest hobbies, but I realized it too late. It has been nearly a year since he passed away, but I still think of him often, and my Facebook profile still remains black. I have done a lot of thinking on what I should have done differently, or any signs that I had missed, and it is still difficult to identify indicators of his depression after the fact. The making of legislation to decrease suicide is very difficult, since even I did not know what to do to help my friend, but we need to take the first steps in that direction.

An essential way to decrease the rate of suicide is simply training and awareness. At my school, we only began to seriously talk about suicide prevention after a freshman passed away, but even that was not enough, as two years later another incident occurred. It all starts with suicide prevention training for teachers. These courses for teachers would inform them on how to identify a student at risk or how to properly deal with any situations that arise. The teachers can then educate their own students about suicide awareness and prevention and create a safe space for students to talk about their problems. Dr. Cheryl Gelley conducted research in 2014 on the effectiveness of educators on identifying anxiety and depression in middle school students. Teachers correctly identified 53.88% of anxious students and 32.14% of students with elevated depression (90), and these numbers can definitely be improved through the effective training of teachers. While these methods are being implemented in many schools around the nation, there must be more investment into protecting our future leaders, which would create a ripple effect that will impact all future generations.

We must also create legislation to advance research that contributes to preventing suicide. The government could set aside money to award grants to institutions of higher education that are making headway into researching suicide prevention and treatment. By awarding grants, legislation can encourage institutions to conduct research on suicide-related topics such as human cognition or drug and alcohol use. This information could then be used to develop breakthroughs to prevent suicide, such as improving blood tests that are used to screen depression. Only a few blood tests are currently available to detect Major Depressive Disorder, and they are slow, expensive, or inaccurate, reducing their effectiveness in a real-world scenario (Verma 1612). For example, more research needs to be conducted for measuring gene expression profiles in blood cells and protein profiles to create a reliable and objective method in diagnosing depression.

Communication technology comes with its risks, and these problems still do not have enough exposure to the public. In order to protect the next generation and prevent future tragedies from occurring, we must take the first steps by establishing legislation to promote the training of educators to recognize anxiety and depression and advance research into mental illnesses and other related topics by awarding grants. As electronics and the internet become further ingrained in society and bring massive convenience to children around the world, we must remember that we have a great responsibility on our shoulders, and it is our duty to keep the impact of technology on kids today and tomorrow as positive as possible.

Works Cited:
Gelley, Cheryl D. “Accuracy of Educators in Identifying Middle School Students with Elevated Levels of Anxiety or Depression.” University of South Florida Graduate Theses and Dissertations (2014). https://scholarcommons.usf.edu/etd/5221
“Suicide.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Jan. 2021, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml.
Verma, Rohit Kumar et al. “An instant diagnosis for depression by blood test.” Journal of clinical and diagnostic research : JCDR vol. 6,9 (2012): 1612-3. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2012/4758.2579

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