Most people would agree that teen mental health is deteriorating, especially with the increase in use of technology over the last decade. Despite initiatives to help kids get the care they need faster, the endless epidemic of depression and suicide cases is only getting worse. We have to do something, and fast – and researchers believe that the answer just might be less time in front of a smartphone screen.
Between 2010 and 2015, teen depression rates jumped by a remarkable 33%. That’s one-third higher than they were just 5 years prior, and they’re still climbing.
iGen Teens May Have Higher Risks
What’s even more interesting than the increase in depression rates alone is the fact that rates seemingly began to escalate around the same time smartphones became standard for teens. One paper published in Clinical Psychological Science showed that “iGen” teens (born after 1995) were much more likely to experience depression in general. The biggest difference in lifestyle for this age range is a rapid increase in the use of smartphones and tablets.
Correlation Between Device Use and Depression
Moreover, teen depression rates spiked in 2012 – the same year statistics showed that 50% of Americans now owned or used a smartphone on a regular basis (including teens). That number jumped to 73% by 2015, as this study showed, and depression rates escalated right alongside.
At the same time, multiple studies attempted to gauge happiness in the face of increased social media use and device use. All reflected lower reported happiness with increased time spent on electronic devices.
What it All Means
Does a correlation between smartphones and poor mental health really make sense? The answer isn’t really straightforward or simple. There’s enough evidence to show that over-using or relying on a device for entertainment and socialization carries a risk for hampering positivity, happiness, and mental health. Not to mention the fact that social media is used for cyber bullying, and sometimes the bullying can be ongoing and targeted, which of course can lead to depression or suicide, which might not have occurred if it wasn’t for technology and social media.
But devices aren’t evil, either; used in the right way with moderation they can help teens learn, network, socialize, and broaden their cultural experience. Parents should try their best to limit access and encourage non-device activities to teach kids how to use technology for greater good, not as a crutch. It seems this will be a constant search for "balance."