In just 10 years, the number of American teens claiming they “do not enjoy life” and “can’t do anything right” doubled.
As social media use increased amongst young people, so did feelings of hopelessness and negative self-image. Psychologist Dr. Jean Twenge discusses the “great depression” facing youth in her book: “Generations: The Real Differences Between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers and Silents—and What They Mean for America’s Future.” The piece highlights startling data about the mental health status of today’s teens. “These are staggering numbers, just enormous increases” and “parents are rightfully very concerned about their children’s mental health” Twenge told the New York Post.
Dr. Twenge’s book highlights an ongoing survey conducted by the University of Michigan polling 50,000 students around the nation in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades. The survey asks teens if they agree with phrases such as “I can’t do anything right” and “I do not enjoy life” or “my life is not useful.” Results are staggering and according to Dr. Twenge, indicative of an alarming trend in teen depression rates which escalated immensely since the 2010s. Dr. Twenge attributes the rise in depression to increased screen time and social media that accompanied smartphone use as it is “by far the largest change in teens’ everyday lives over the past 10 to 12 years. Nothing else even comes close.”
The increased use of screen time resulted in a plummeting rates of working, driving, and dating as teens claim they are online “almost constantly” – spending up to nine hours per day looking at a screen.
Dr. Twenge pointed out the “fundamental change in how teens spend their leisure time” because “if you put this all together—more time with screens, less time with friends face to face, less time sleeping—that’s a very poor recipe for mental health.”
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently cautioned that suicide and teen depression are rising and interestingly, women seem to be more affected by the trend but both young girls and boys are struggling. Although there is no easy solution, Dr. Twenge believes more extreme solutions such as implementing a minimum age for social media could make an impact as “we’re behind the curve in doing anything about this” as the rising depression rates aren’t “just a problem of individual families or individual teens” but a “group level problem.”
Although seemingly extreme, Dr. Twenge may have a point. A homeschooler whose parents banned social media recently made headlines for graduating with a 4.0 GPA at the age of…twelve.