The rise of social media has led to an increase in depression and hopelessness among teens.
There are roughly twice as many teens today who agree with statements like “I can’t do anything right,” “I do not enjoy life” and “My life is not useful” compared to 10 years ago.
According to psychologist and generational expert Dr. Jean Twenge, “These are staggering numbers, just enormous increases, and parents are rightfully very concerned about their children’s mental health.”
The University of Michigan poll, which is discussed in Twenge’s book “Generations: The Real Differences Between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers and Silents — and What They Mean for America’s Future,” is just the most recent shocking finding regarding teen mental health as rates of teen anxiety and depression have increased.
Social media and screen time are the primary causes, in Twenge’s opinion. Since smartphones became widely used in the early 2010s, the occurrence of teenage depression symptoms has dramatically grown.
“There’s no question that is the primary cause of the increase in teen depression now,” Twenge said. “It’s by far the largest change in teens’ everyday lives over the past 10 to 12 years. Nothing else even comes close.”
Since 1991, the University of Michigan has surveyed 50,000 8th, 10th, and 12th graders nationally to see whether they agree with the statements “I can’t do anything right,” “I do not enjoy life,” and “My life is not useful.”
While the numbers remained consistent up until roughly 2012, the next year saw the start of a significant rise. The percentage of students who indicated they agreed with the statement “I do not enjoy my life” before that point was lower than 20%; now, it is 50%.
Along with that, social media sites like Instagram, Snapchat, and Musical.ly—which made its debut in 2015 and became TikTok in the US two years later—have grown in popularity.
It was reported that the average teen spends nine hours a day in front of a screen, and half of them are online “almost constantly.”
Critical rites of passage are also being replaced by screen time. The number of teenagers dating, obtaining a driver’s license, and working for money has significantly decreased since the introduction of smartphones.
“It’s a fundamental change in how teens spend their leisure time,” Twenge said. “If you put this all together — more time with screens, less time with friends face to face, less time sleeping — that’s a very poor recipe for mental health.”
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a warning earlier this year that the social media era is contributing to an increase in teen sadness and suicide. While both boys and girls are having difficulties, it appears that girls are being affected more severely.
According to Twenge, this might be the case because social media sites like Instagram make girls more likely to compare themselves and compete for social status, which now takes the form of likes and follows.
“Depression isn’t just about emotions. It’s about cognition, it’s about thinking, it’s about how you see the world,” she said. “A generation that is more depressed is more likely to be pessimistic, and they’re going to view ambiguous things as negative.”
The number of hospitalizations for young people who self-harm has increased by 163% in the previous 10 years, and nearly one-third of teen girls have given suicide serious consideration.
Additionally, Twenge feels that more drastic measures are required, such as raising the minimum social media age to 16. She also advises parents to avoid smartphones and social media as much as possible.