The Washington Post recently published an article that showcased the work of Mark Sayers and David Shahar – two health science researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia – who claimed that young people are developing horns on their lower skulls. They claim that the horns are linked to a forward-and-down head posture, with one possible reason being young people using devices.
The research is focused on enthesophytes. These are small bits of bone caused by a range of factors, including chemical, environment, genetic, and use. The researchers basically found that the “horns” are more prevalent in young people. Or seem to be.
Their original research from 2018 claims that 41% of people in a group of 218 18-30-year-olds had small enthesophytes on the base of their skulls. They also examined four young boys between 13 and 16 and found that they had none of the known genetic markers related to enthesophytes.
While the researchers make an educated guess that this could be connected to the increased use of handheld technologies, this doesn’t prove that using devices is what caused those little appendages. The researchers don’t even claim that they are correlated. They are just guessing, opening the door for further research.
The story in the Washington Post built from a feature the BBC published, which also looked at the research. Since then, several stories have come out to continue the narrative that using phones is turning children into literal little devils. All in all, the discussion around the research has become nothing but a moral panic about using technology and what it might do.
This is hardly the first time such a “crisis” has been caused by technology. Just look back to the discussion over “smartphone pinky,” where everyone claimed that the normal curve in the pinky bone was a deformity caused by balancing a phone on your pinky. Then there was Momo, a creepy monster that allegedly told kids to hurt themselves and their loved ones. That caused a whole moral panic on what kids are exposed to on the internet.
These horns exist. There’s no denying the physical proof in front of us. This doesn’t mean that they are caused by smartphones, though. There are lots of things that cause people to have a bad posture outside of phones, including reading and writing. A bad posture can even be caused by weak muscles. So don’t go and throw away your kid’s phone just yet. These bones exist, but they aren’t a threat to your children, and they aren’t necessarily caused by smartphone use.
There are lots of discussions to be had about how technology companies interact with kids, attempting to foster trust through child-friendly services. Is there a discussion to be had about how phones are turning kids into real little devils? Not so much.