It’s a familiar scene: Teenagers with their noses buried in their cellphones in restaurants, in the car, with their friends. An author and researcher in California says the scenes aren’t as innocuous as they appear.
This sight isn’t rare: Young people texting, checking social media sites or playing games. The author of iGen, a book examining social effects on kids, says that leads to feelings of missing out or not measuring up to friends and sometimes cyberbullying.
“At the same time, that loneliness spiked and depression went up and unhappiness went up,” Dr. Twenge said.
Dr. Twenge analyzed four national surveys of how teens spend their time, how they feel and why. She found that in the last seven years, teen depression has risen from eight to 13 percent. Their suicide rate, though still low, has doubled. Cases of self-harm are also up. She says teens who spend more than five hours a day online are twice as likely to say they’re unhappy as kids who are online one hour a day.
Related Content: Instagram unveils tools to help fight cyberbullying
“It’s going to crowd out time for actually seeing your friends in person,” Dr. Twenge added.
UCSD child psychologist Kara Bagot studies substance use in kids. She says more research is needed, but does see similarities with social media use.
“They’re sort of compulsively using in a way that we see adolescents and adults sort of compulsively use alcohol and other drugs,” Bagot said.
She says parents and pediatricians need to talk to kids about social media potential harm earlier. Dr. Twenge agrees.
“Many of the causes of depression and unhappiness are completely out of our control. But how we spend our leisure time is something that we can control and we can help our kids do the same,” she said.
Dr. Twenge has some suggestions for parents on how to help: Don’t let kids have phones in the bedroom or use phones within an hour of bedtime. That will help with sleep. Make sure your kids are old and mature enough to process the cyberworld. And limit how much access they have to social media.