This article is from Dr. Patricia Caine, our director of Student Services.
A new study, co-authored by American psychologist Dr. Jean Twenge, explored the increasing rate of depression and other suicide factors in American teens. The cause of this increase – according to the study – may surprise most of us: smartphone use.
In an interview with National Public Radio, Dr. Twenge stated that teenagers are more depressed and more likely to consider suicide today than in previous years. Click here for the full article.
According to Twenge, the increase in depressive symptoms, suicide risk factors, and suicide rates began in 2012 (when the popularity of smartphones skyrocketed). Interestingly enough, Twenge argues that these higher instances of depression are associated with the amount of screen time invested by teenagers – not the content of the viewing material.
Conversely, these higher rates of depression cannot be linked to increased academic pressure. According to Twenge, today’s college-bound teens, those students most likely to feel anxious about academics, spend about the same time on homework and extracurricular activities as did the college-bound teens of the 1980s; and those teens who spent more time on homework were less likely to be depressed. There’s no negating the fact. Our teens are more depressed and anxious today than in previous decades, prompting our society to investigate, and sometimes exploit, the emotional turmoil experienced by millions of teenagers every day. We have all read articles, skimmed self-help books, listened to prominent researchers on national talk shows, binge-watched Netflix documentaries, and observed pain and hopelessness in our teenagers. We may be more aware of the dangers our teens face, yet we feel overwhelmed when trying to remedy the situation.
According to Twenge and other mental health practitioners, there are some very practical and simple steps parents can take to undo the damage the technological revolution has wrought upon us. Simply put, parents need to set boundaries on the use of all electronic devices and offer their children activities which may promote positive mental health:
- Limit use to two hours per day.
- Be a good role model. Be cognizant of your own use of electronic devices; know that your daughters may mirror your own behaviors and set limits on your own use of electronic devices. Our daughters may be encouraged to use their devices after observing our own habits.
- Ensure that your daughter’s electronic devices are not with her when she goes to bed. Screen time does disrupt sleep. Attention to these devices will impact your daughter’s sleep – which may impact her attention, focus, and academic achievement the next day in school.
- Provide positive mental health activities which may contribute to overall levels of happiness. These activities may include face-to-face contact with friends and family members, physical exercise, sleep, volunteer work, faith-based activities, and mindfulness meditation.