Excessive use of social media, smartphones, and other technologies has had a demonstrably negative impact on the mental health of America’s teenagers. For better or for worse, many of these technologies seem to have established themselves as a permanent component of our culture. What remains clear is that the importance of moderation cannot be overstated.
Deteriorating social interactions
Many teenagers love using texting, social media, and other digital forms of communication because it enables them to communicate in ways that used to be impossible. In the 21st Century, having conversations with ten different people in ten different states is now a realistic possibility. But just because something can be done, that doesn’t mean doing so is without consequences.
Because communicating through these novel new mediums is so readily available, many teenagers have begun to prefer digital communications to face-to-face communications. But while spending time on a computer or smartphone may decrease certain physical risks, there is evidence suggesting that it makes teens less happy.
As a social species, we have a continuous need for healthy human interactions. Personal communication is something that produces a wide variety of benefits (directly affecting our brain’s chemistry) and many of these benefits are lost when the personal element of communicating is removed.
Our brains tend to wrongfully register the glow of a phone or computer screen as the glow of the sun. Because we have evolved to associate this glow with the daytime, looking at a screen late in the day can make it much more difficult to fall asleep at night.
Sleep is absolutely vital for teenagers to properly function. Without enough sleep (ideally 7+ hours per night), they are more likely to do poorly in school and also more likely to be depressed. In order to avoid one of the primary causes of depression, it is important to avoid spending time on screens at least an hour before going to bed.
Constant media exposure and self esteem
The teenage years can be exceptionally difficult. Most teenagers are struggling to form their identity and build a healthy sense of self-esteem. The environment in which they mature in can have a tremendous impact on who they are as a person and how they feel about themselves.
When an individual is constantly being exposed to various forms of media, their sense of self-esteem can begin to diminish. The world that is being consumed through digital media is a distorted reality. Because most social media accounts represent a filtered version of an individual’s life, teenagers will often wrongfully compare themselves to their peers and assume they are not good enough.
This filtered reality creates an impossible standard that no individual could possibly be expected to meet. It has often been said, “Not even the models look like the models”, and this is something that is undeniably true.
Artificial sources of self-worth
One of the greatest outcomes of the information era is that we can now quantify data more effectively than ever before. However, when it comes to many of the quantitative measures that are used on social media, it becomes all too easy to invest one’s sense of self-worth in something that isn’t even real.
Metrics such as Facebook “likes”, Instagram “followers”, and Snapchat “streaks” do not accurately reflect the value of the individual. Yet, many users of social media dependent on these numbers in order to feel a sense of value. When there is always someone with a statistically ‘better’ number out there, these users will feel as if they are simply not good enough.
Recognizing signs of depression in teenagers
The relationship between technology use and depression is abundantly clear. Teenagers who are continuously plugged-in are more likely to demonstrate the social, behavioral, and even chemical symptoms of someone who is clinically depressed.
- Consistently low mood, low self-esteem, and low levels of motivation
- Disinterest in things they once found interesting
- Problems relating to sleep
- Poor performance in school, work, family life, social life, and elsewhere
- Substance abuse, self-harm, suicide ideation
Major depressive disorder in teens is something that is distinctively different than ordinary sadness. Depression is chronic, persistent, and distinctively difficult. Teenage depression is something that should not be expected to resolve itself on its own and may require a lot more than simply changing habits.
If you believe your teenager may be suffering from depression, you may want to consider reaching out to a professional resource. The available research on the connection between technology and teenage depression is rapidly expanding.
Moderation is important
Just as it would be wrong to assume that advancements in technology are always good, it would also be wrong to assume that these advancements have always been bad. Modern technology offers users some benefits and also presents some risk.
Where developing healthy tech habits becomes difficult is finding a way to enjoy the benefits while also avoiding the risks. The internet offers individuals access to more information than they have ever had before. But it also offers a constant distraction—a virtual escape that can deteriorate one’s state of material being.
As a parent, one of the most important things you can do is realize the importance of moderation. Encouraging healthy tech habits can profoundly benefit your teenager’s mental well-being.
- Encourage your teenager to stop using screens at least one hour before going to bed
- Promote physical and outdoor activity as often as possible
- Take time to have regular in-person conversations with your teenager
- Set limits on screen usage when necessary
Though there are still many different reasons a given teenager may be suffering from depression, being conscious of the effects of technology can make an immediate difference.
If you suspect your teen is suffering from severe depression, anxiety or other mental health disorders, it’s important to seek help in the early stages. For more information on our psychiatric, residential programs, contact Polaris Teen Center at 1-844-836-0222 or leave us a message through our confidential contact form.
Polaris Teen Center is a residential treatment facility for teens and adolescents suffering from severe mental health disorders. Our highly accredited facility is fully licensed and certified in Trauma Informed Care and is a part of the Behavioral Health Association of Providers (formerly AATA).