Today’s generation of adolescents also known as iGen adolescents, spend more time on media screen activities (e.g. electronic devices, social media) than their Millennial and Generation X predecessors did at the same age. As a result, many teenagers and young adults spend a significant amount of time connecting with their peers electronically and much less time in face-to-face interactions.
A study completed in 2018 of over half a million adolescents in grades 8 through 12 found that 33% more adolescents experienced depression symptoms between 2010 and 2015. This rise in depression rates occurred around the same time the smartphone was introduced. At this time, we can’t assume that social media causes depression, however research is growing in this area, and several studies suggest there is a link. This trend is seen across groups of adolescents regardless of race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and age/grade.
Studies have suggested the following:
- Screen activities are related to a higher level of depressive symptoms than non-screen activities (e.g. in person social interaction, sports/exercise, homework, print media, and attending religious services).
- Screen time, and especially social media may have larger effects on adolescent girls’ mental health than on boys.
- Adolescents who use electronic devices for several hours a day are at an increased risk for depression and suicide.
- Adolescents who have few in person social interactions and spend a great deal of their time on social media, reported the highest levels of depressive symptoms.
- On the other hand, adolescents who are high users of social media, but also have a high level of face-to-face interaction, do not report depressive symptoms.
What can parents do?
It is important for parents to understand that media screen time is a risk factor for depression and suicide. It is helpful to monitor how your child spends their leisure time and encourage activities that don’t involve a screen. It can be beneficial to lead by example and disengage from your own media. Some ideas include enforcing phone-free dinners and phone-free time before sleep.
Brianna Bliss, M.S., LPC
Twenge, J. M., Joiner, T. E., Rogers, M. L., & Martin, G. N. (2018). Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents After 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time. Clinical Psychological Science, 6(1), 3–17. https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702617723376
Twenge, J. M. (2017). iGen: Why today’s super-connected kids are growing up less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy –and completely unprepared for adulthood. New York, NY: Atria Books