The behavioural sciences are relatively recent beasts. Stuff like psychology, psychiatry, Freudian style psychoanalysis, and such.
Academically, psychology was usually the university entry-level subject for the general field, and always seemed to involve lots of white mice.
It did and does provide rich pickings for the likes of cartoonist Gary Larson, with gags involving psychology geeks in lab coats mind-fracking colleagues by clandestinely fooling around with the latter's mice behaviour experiments.
One type of experiment always offered fertile research fodder, where mice colonies were allowed to reproduce within the same confined space.
Before long, the cage naturally turned into a rodent Bedlam. As numbers increased, the graphs mapping strange and dysfunctional behaviours started climbing the walls, too.
In short, the mice became stir-crazy, and the colony a dystopian nightmare.
In this way, psychologists learned to replicate the same psychotic behaviour readily observable in their wacko fellow humans similarly affected by the overcrowded cities in which most lived.
Conclusion: too many cooks cuckoos your clock.
The parlous state of teenage mental health is now a major concern, with increasing incidence of clinical depression, general anxiety, impaired self-esteem, self-harm, peer bullying, and similar.
The pernicious link between them all often devolves back to today's ubiquitous smartphone. Or dumbphone, as the case may be.
• Frank Greenall: Look to past to fix future
• Best of 2019: Frank Greenall: An avalanche of issues
• Frank Greenall: Try counting what matters
• Premium - Frank Greenall: You'd think we'd learn from the sinking of the Titanic
Naturally there are two – if not more – sides to the debate. Most are in accord that the smartphone and its natural stamping ground, social media, have much going for them – rich opportunities to connect, develop and maintain all manner of both peer and family relationships, not to mention information gathering, and so forth.
But opponents point to its dark and dangerous side, and advise restraint – if not abolition.
Conversely, with particular regard to the teen, phone supporters assert the smartphone is simply a tool that centralises a whole bunch of behaviours that used to take place anyway. It's just that previously the same activities required a mixed bag of other devices such as computers or video cameras.
This is true. The smartphone's become a super-enabler.
But so too is the automatic machine gun compared to a single-shot weapon.
Theoretically, the latter can do the same damage – it would just take longer. But in reality, most times the same extent of collateral damage wouldn't occur because the process would be so drawn out opportunities would arise for circumstances to change and either mitigate or negate potential damage.
Yet the smartphone's more than just an enabler. It's now also an intensifier.
Where once there was only a controllable trickle, it now allows oceans of information, opinion and feedback to swamp the brain almost concurrently.
The sheer volume toxifies the whole nature of the experience. For the teen, instead of wading through a knee-high steady stream, it can become more a matter of floundering through a series of all-engulfing, highly turbulent rollers, with some nasty rips thrown in for good measure.
Think teenage brains and cages. As the mice amply demonstrate, there's only so much room in the cage before things turn pear-shaped.
Given the immature teen brain is still cognitive scrambled eggs, when the emotional belfry gets overloaded, it's only a matter of time before the bells crack up too.
The teen's as yet undeveloped head gear is unable to emulate a more mature brain's ability to safely filter and process such enhanced volumes of vicarious abstract emotional triggers and tags.
The corollary? It's okay for parents, guardians and schools to limit usage. In fact, in most cases it will be a necessity.
Otherwise it's a case of throwing the keys of the lolly cupboard to the kid. Just as the digestive system can only stomach so many ju-jubes, teen synapses lack capacity to handle unremitting incoming emotionally-loaded messaging, particularly if accompanied by toxic baggage.
The teenage cognitive cage can only accommodate so many mischief-making mice before weird, wonky and nasty kick in, particularly if hanky-panky's at large as well.
•Frank Greenall is a Whanganui based contributor.