Pass The Happy Pills: The Internet Is Depressing The Children!
ONE of the great problems in this modern world is that people are forever confusing cause and effect. Or if you prefer, forgetting that correlation does not mean causation. And so it is with this latest report that the internet is making our precious little children sad. For what’s forgotten, not even considered here, is that it could well be that sad people, those with few friends in the real world, go on hte internet more than others, instead of it being going online that makes people sad:
Children who spend too much time on the internet are developing mental health problems, according to government health advisors.
Those who sit behind a screen for more than four hours a day are particularly at risk, although very low levels of use can cause issues, they say.
Public Health England, which issues guidelines to the NHS, said children face social problems such as loneliness, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and heightened aggression as a result of overusing computers.
The huge improvements made in children’s welfare over the last 20 years had now been “curtailed and may now be in reverse”, it said.
In a dossier to MPs it warned of a clear relationship between the amount of time spent on social media sites such as Facebook and “lower levels of well-being”.
That the relationship is clearly there does not mean at all that it is the going online that produces the lower levels of well-being. It could be of course: but we must also consider the counter-example, where Billy NoMates goes online because he can’t think of what the fuck else to do with his time. Unless that is explored, and explored sufficiently to be able to rule it out then we just don’t know which way the causation runs.
This is, of course, a fairly trivial example of the point. But there are more serious ones out there. For example, we get told a lot about the relationship between health inequality and economic inequality. You know the stuff, everyone in hte Gorbals is dead by age 35 while everyone in Kensington lives to 110. Because the first is dirt poor and the second fabulously rich. What everyone forgets is that health inequality will also create economic inequality. If you start having chronic heart problems when you’re 35 then you’re just not going to rise up to be a fabulously wealthy businessman, are you? There is a correlation between economic and health inequality, yes, but we cannot assume, and shouldn’t assume, that it all works just the one way.
Correlation is not the same as causation.