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Many teens resist allure of smartphone ‘catnip’ — but some still struggle

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The seemingly irresistible draw of social media scrolls on smartphones can be hard to withstand. But some teens are finding ways to strike a balance.

National studies following teens in the U.S. and Europe have found slight associations between spending five hours or more online and poorer adolescent well-being.

Researchers are divided over whether smartphones are harming adolescent brains — but both doctors and teens themselves worry about overuse.

Jean Twenge is a professor of psychology at San Diego State University wanted to understand why there’s been a spike in depression rates since 2012, as teens got less sleep and the popularity of electronic devices took off.

The author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, Twenge set out to explore generational differences by crunching through survey data from large, nationally representative samples of teens in the U.S. 

A 2011 photo of Jean Twenge, San Diego State University psychology professor and author of the book iGen. Twenge wanted to understand why there has been a spike in depression rates among U.S. teens since 2012. (Gregory Bull/The Associated Press)

U.S. teens now routinely clock up to six hours a day on social media, texting and other online activities, she found.

“For teens in particular, it’s catnip,” Twenge said. 

If teens spend less time face-to-face, which is known to be protective and soothing, Twenge said that alone could be an explanation for the association between overuse and worse mental health.

Claims that smartphone overuse is linked to depression or decreased well-being are strong ones to make, cautioned psychologist Amy Orben. She completed her PhD on the effects of social media. 

“There is a small negative effect of overusing technology and screens on teen well-being, but actually eating breakfast and getting a good night’s sleep has a three times more positive effect than screens has a negative effect,” Orben said. 

Late-night scroller

Smartphones also have their upsides and many Canadians say the technology enriches their lives.  

Jessica Fazio, 24, sees benefits from connecting through social media as well as what she calls the flip side of always having a phone in your pocket. “If someone messages me and I’m with other humans, I don’t need to answer them back right away.”

The Windsor, Ont., resident uses Instagram and Facebook in her advocacy work with Jack.org, a national network of young people who aim to change the way people think about mental health.

It’s important to take breaks from social media, said mental health advocate Jessica Fazio. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

When she speaks to high school students, Fazio cautions how social scrolls don’t reflect “the whole deal.” 

“We’re really comparing ourselves to others and we’re working out our self-image,” said Fazio, who calls herself “a late-night scroller.”

Dopamine-driven likes

About two-thirds of adolescents say they use social media to cope when life is stressful, said Andy Przybylski, an associate professor at the Oxford Internet Institute and Orben’s colleague.

Przybylski said society hasn’t yet truly grappled with how the invention of the light bulb changed how we sleep and procreate beyond the sun’s cycle, and now we need to cope with notifications from smartphone apps.

“If you’re worried about dangers of smartphones, the first thing you should be worried about is distracted driving,” Przybylski said. Distracted driving is considered the only established risk. 

Przybylski points to other areas of concern that came to the fore in 2018, such as how our locations and those of our children are tracked, and how apps, depending on the platform, can access microphones and cameras.

There is a small negative effect of overusing technology and screens on teen well-being, but actually eating breakfast and getting a good night’s sleep has a three times more positive effect than screens has a negative effect.– Amy Orben

Hypothetically, why might adolescents be more vulnerable to problematic smartphone use? There’s a lot of factors at play, said Jason Chein, a psychology professor at Temple University in Philadelphia.

His experiments explore how teens take more risks when they’re with their peers compared with when they’re alone.

Chein said adolescence is a developmental stage when hormones are kicking in and the brain is thought to become more sensitive to rewards such as social media “likes,” as dopamine processing of rewards starts to reconfigure.

About two-thirds of adolescents say they use social media to cope when life is stressful, a U.K. researcher says. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

Researchers turn to brain scans to fill in the gaps. The studies are preliminary and it’s hard to tell what they mean on their own, Chein said. First, scientists need a more robust understanding of the adolescent brain and how individual differences from genetics, parenting and substance use collectively shape teen behaviours. 

Worsens mental health symptoms?

When some teens do find their overuse of a phone interferes with their relationship with their parents, friends, sleep or studies, Dr. Carolyn Boulos talks to them about turning over the phone to avoid the distraction.

In her youth psychiatry practice at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Boulos said she’s seeing more young people communicating through photos alone on Snapchat and Instagram. Her concern is that their verbal communication and problem solving skills don’t get as much practice. In her view, it can add up to more arguments, particularly if no one is truly listening.

“It’s not necessarily that [smartphone overuse] causes depression or causes anxiety, but it can feed into making symptoms worse,” Boulos said. For instance, young people may be more self-conscious about their appearance or fall victim to cyberbullying.

It’s equally true, Boulos said, that teens who stutter may find it easier to communicate through social media or texts.

‘People use it to seek distraction’

Other teens navigate skillfully through our world of screens.

“Endless scrolling” can be an issue for some classmates, said Jack Spencer, 18.

Some teens say overcoming boredom is a common reason they turn to their smartphones. (Drew Angerer/Getty)

“People use it to seek distraction,” the Richmond Hill, Ont., student said. “It’s like messing with a cup holder in the car when you’re a kid.”

On the sidelines of the State of Mind Festival in Toronto this spring, some high school students said boredom was a common reason for swiping. Their strategies included:

  • Patrick Arcilla, 15:  “I set a time limit and then stop and read a book.”
  • Nowreen Taslima, 17: Quit social media sites. “It was a platform to advertise yourself,” she said of Instagram and Snapchat.
  • David Stevens, 15: Just listen to music before bed without checking the screen.

Fazio believes educating teens and children about mental health, including social media’s effects, will help.

“We can step back and we can take a break. It’s really important.”

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Post-vaccine surge? Michigan’s spring coronavirus case spike close to previous year’s autumn high

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(Natural News) The spike in new Wuhan coronavirus infections recorded in Michigan over the spring is similar to a spike seen during the 2020 fall season. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, the state’s daily coronavirus case count averaged more than 7,000 for almost two weeks – before taking a slight dip to 6,891 on April 20. This echoed similar figures back in November and December 2020, which saw sharp rises in infections for those two months before plunging.

Back in autumn of last year, Michigan averaged more than 7,000 cases per day for a span of 10 days. New infections dropped slightly, then briefly spiked as the December holidays approached. It then fell to the low 1,000s for the succeeding two months – until ascending again in March.

According to University of Michigan internal medicine professor Dr. Vikas Parekh, the sudden increase in new infections could be attributed to several factors. Among the factors he cited was re-openings, which increased people’s interactions and mobility. Parekh said the loosened restrictions contributed to the spread of the highly contagious U.K. B117 variant.

“As the B117 variant spreads nationally, we will likely see other stats [with] their own surges – although I hope none are as bad as Michigan,” the professor remarked. He continued: “The milestone just tells us we are not yet in the clear, especially as we still have large portions of our population who are not vaccinated yet.”

Parekh also expressed optimism over the lower daily caseloads the Great Lakes State reported. He said he believes both cases and hospitalizations have plateaued and will likely decline soon. The professor commented: “[COVID-19] positivity has been declining now for one week, which is usually a leading indicator of case decline.”

Meanwhile, the state cited younger populations and youth sports, such as basketball, wrestling and hockey, to increase new COVID-19 infections. Because of this, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called to suspend youth sports and indoor dining in the state. She also exhorted high schools to conduct remote class sessions for two weeks to curb the spread of the pathogen.

Michigan still experienced the spike in cases despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the country

During the opening stages of the U.S.’s immunization drive against COVID-19, Michigan boasted of having one of the highest vaccination rates nationwide. A report by Bridge Michigan even noted the initial “frenzy for vaccines” that “far exceeded the state’s limited supply.” But things have appeared to turn around for Michigan, as it now struggles to reach the 70 percent vaccination rate needed for herd immunity.

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Scottish mom’s legs turn into a pair of “giant blisters” after first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine

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(Natural News) Sarah Beuckmann of Glasgow, Scotland, felt a tingling sensation in her legs and noticed a rash flaring up around her ankles a week after getting her first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine on March 18.

She also had flu-like symptoms right after the vaccination.

Beuckmann called her doctor to arrange an appointment the morning she noticed the rash, but by the afternoon her skin was already breaking out into blood-filled blisters. Blisters also appeared on her legs, hands, face, arms and bottom.

“I ended up asking my husband to take me to A&E,” said Beuckmann, referring to “accident and emergency,” the equivalent of an emergency room (ER). “When I got there, my heart rate was sitting at 160bpm, which they were very concerned about. I got put on an ECG machine.”

Doctors determine AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine triggers the rash

Medics carried out tests for HIV, herpes and other skin conditions to work out what triggered the rash, but all results came back negative. Doctors finally determined that the vaccine caused her rare reaction after carrying out two biopsies.

“Once they found that it was a reaction to the vaccine, they put me on steroids and that really seems to be helping my progress,” said Beuckmann. She had been advised by her doctor not to get the second dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine because of her reaction.

Beuckmann spent 16 days at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. She was discharged to recover at home. The 34-year-old mother of one is currently wheelchair-bound due to the bandages on her legs and blisters on the soles of her feet. She may need physiotherapy to help strengthen her leg muscles.

“They are starting to heal and they’re looking a lot better than they were but as the blisters started to get worse, they all sort of merged together,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

With the blisters merging, her legs have looked like a pair of “giant blisters.” Beuckmann admitted that at one point she feared her legs might have to be amputated.

Dermatologist agrees COVID-19 vaccine causes the blisters

Dr. Emma Wedgeworth, a consultant dermatologist and spokeswoman at the British Skin Foundation, agreed that Beuckmann had likely suffered a reaction to the vaccine.

“Vaccines are designed to activate the immune system. Occasionally people will have quite dramatic activation of their immune systems which, as happened in this case, can manifest in their skin” Wedgeworth told MailOnline. “This poor lady had a very severe reaction, which thankfully is extremely rare.”

It is not clear why Beuckmann, who works in retail, was invited for a vaccine. Scotland’s vaccine rollout was focused on people over the age of 50 when she got vaccinated, although vaccines are available to those who are considered at risk from the virus, or live with someone considered vulnerable.

At least 20 million Briton have had AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which drug regulators say causes a rash in one percent of cases. They say rashes caused by the jab tend to go away within a week.

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Trojan labs? Chinese biotech company offers to build COVID testing labs in six states

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In 2012, BGI acquired Complete Genomics, a DNA sequencing company and equipment maker. The funds for the $117.6 million purchase were raised from Chinese venture capitals. The company has expanded its footprint globally. According to its website, BGI conducts business in more than 100 countries and areas and has 11 offices and labs in the U.S.

People are concerned about China’s access to American DNA data

Some said that with Complete Genomics providing an American base, BGI would have access to more DNA samples from Americans, helping it compile a huge database of genetic information. Some also worried about the protection of the genetic information’s privacy.

According to a 2019 report from the U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), BGI “has formed numerous partnerships with U.S. healthcare providers and research organizations to provide large-scale genetic sequencing to support medical research efforts,”

There are three main reasons why many people in the biotech community and government have expressed concerns about China’s access to American DNA data.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, Evanina discussed the very likely scenario in which Chinese companies would be able to micro-target American individuals and offer customized preventative solutions based on their DNA.

Evanina asked: “Do we want to have another nation systematically eliminate our healthcare services? Are we okay with that as a nation?”

The second concern is that China may use DNA to track and attack American individuals. As the USCC report states: “China could target vulnerabilities in specific individuals brought to light by genomic data or health records. Individuals targeted in such attacks would likely be strategically identified persons, such as diplomats, politicians, high-ranking federal officials or military leadership.”

The third concern is that China may devise bioweapons to target non-Asians. Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, discussed it in his article “What Will China Do With Your DNA?” published by The Epoch Times in March 2019.

He wrote: “We know that the Asian genome is genetically distinct from the Caucasian and African in many ways. … Would it be possible to bioengineer a very virulent version of, say, smallpox, that was easily transmitted, fatal to other races, but to which the Chinese enjoyed a natural immunity? … Given our present ability to manipulate genomes, if such a bio-weapon can be imagined, it can probably – given enough time and resources – be realized.”

An article from Technocracy said: “China’s aggressive collection of American DNA should be doubly alarming because it can only spell one ultimate outcome: biowarfare. That is, genetically engineering viruses or other diseases that will be selectively harmful to U.S. populations.”

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