How many of you remember feeling down and depressed when you were a teenager? During my time as a teen, we didn’t have smart phones. Cell phones were becoming the norm, but they were still the Zack Morris type. Hardly worth using unless it was an emergency. Many people believe that teenagers are just moody and sullen. Why I mention my teenage years, and Zack Morris is because of this – teenagers today are becoming more and more depressed. And, according to Jean Twenge, smartphones are having a huge impact on mental health of American teenagers.
Twenge is a professor of psychology from San Diego State University. She notes, “The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health […] Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.”
I often write about how technology helps and is used in ways to improve the lives of its consumers. But in this case, we might be making it worse. The study shows that teens are spending far less time hanging out with their friends than in previous generations. A few other interesting findings of this study include that fewer teenagers have a drivers license, they are dating less, getting less sleep and are more likely to feel lonely.
So is it the fact that teenagers are spending more time on their phones that is causing this, or is it the device itself? I mean, you could argue this point about anyone. For example, you move to a new city. You don’t have any friends in the city, and you don’t really know where to start. So you stay home, watch TV and stare at your phone. I don’t think it’s a big leap to think that after doing this for 3 or 4 weeks is going to make you more depressed. And so on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing this study. I just wonder if this isn’t more about the way we have evolved socially, rather than an issue just for teenagers?
Twenge notes that smartphones aren’t the only factors contributing to the depression. But parenting styles are continuing to change. School curricula can change, which can also impact a teenager. She thinks that the use of smartphones paired with the rise of social media are the biggest factors in teenage depression. Twenge also notes that she doesn’t necessarily have the answer. For those of you parents of teenagers out there, will know how difficult it would be to modify their use of electronic devices and social media. I mean, you would literally be inciting a riot. But there is still a risk that your teenager is going to develop some kind of mental health concern.
Mental health is a major concern for many people. When it comes to young people, we need to pay close attention and really understand why it’s happening and find ways to help. Too many young people are committing suicide, or putting themselves into bad situations because they think there is no way out. I am not a doctor, nor am I suggesting that this is because of smartphones. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to do anything about it.
Check out Twenge’s full article, found in the September issue of The Atlantic. What’s interesting to me about the article is just how different teenagers are when it comes to communication. I am sure I sound like my grandmother by saying that, but it’s true. When I was 15 or so, I remember having one or two phones in the house. Both of them were relatively central so I had to do all of my talking to friends and boyfriends in the kitchen. My parents could hear everything I was saying. But now, teenagers are communicating in different ways. Often ways that are away from their parents. But, if Twenge doesn’t have answers for this, I’m not sure that I do either.