Did you know that roughly 44 percent of American teens feel sad or even hopeless? In light of the lockdowns, etc., you might not be surprised by this number. But what if I told you the number was almost as high before the pandemic? In fact, the number of teens feeling sad, hopeless, or having suicidal thoughts rose the most between 2009 and 2019. So, if it wasn’t all due to the pandemic, what could be the cause?
By 2010, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, and the hashtag were in full effect. What role did the advent of social media have in the state of adolescent mental health?
What is Really Going Viral?
The average child opens their first social media account at 12 years old. Within one year, according to recent research, that translates to 97 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds on social media. About half of these teens admit to being online “almost constantly.” Studies find that the more time a kid is online, the higher the risk of:
The confusion lies in the reality that kids can gain benefits from social media time, e.g.
- Access to information that can help their education
- Access in general for teens with disabilities or illnesses
- Awareness of current events
- The ability to interact with peers all across the globe
But the same mechanisms that offer such upsides are placing adolescents in some precarious situations.
The Curse of the Algorithm
Social media platforms are created with the simple goal of making profits — lots of profits. To succeed at this mission requires them to keep people’s eyes on their screens. This is accomplished through a wide range of tactics managed by an artificial intelligence algorithm. Kids are naturally impulsive. They are still developing their identities and intellectual capacities while subjected to intense marketing and manipulation.
They are herded into small hive minds that can present a skewed perception of the world around them. As a result, there are impacted by negative factors ranging from bullying to fake news to body image problems and beyond. In other words, it is essential for parents and guardians to get involved in some way.
How You Can Help
- Talk to Your Children About Social Media: Explain to them that such platforms are run by huge corporations that don’t always have your best interests at heart. If necessary, monitor their accounts.
- Talk to Your Children About Mental Health: Don’t let this topic be taboo or stigmatized. Normalize conversations about your everyone’s mental well-being.
- Set Limits: Sure, this will provoke some conflict. But consider the alternative. You have every right and reason to set boundaries, e.g. no devices at the dinner table.
- Talk About Appropriate Behavior: There is so much a teen can get caught up in online. Bring these topics out into the open. Discuss difficult subjects like bullying, pornography, etc.
- Set Up Face-to-Face Socializing: Do everything you can to get your children to maximize in-person social time.
You’re In Uncharted Territory
As the numbers above highlight, this is a relatively new issue. As a parent, you can be forgiven for not having all the answers. This makes it crucial that you take personal steps to learn all you can — as soon as you can. Of course, you need to be up to date on what your kids are doing. But, more importantly, you’ll need input from a professional.
Parenting was hard enough before social media and smartphones. In this brave new world, it is necessary to learn new skills in terms of managing your adolescent’s online life. If you feel concerned about the social media usage, child therapy can help both of you. Let’s connect and talk soon.