Ubiquitous internet leads to spikes in teenage depression

photo by SEAN LOCKE


“My phone has become my prime source of happiness,” reveals a CHS junior, reflecting on how her smartphone has had an effect not only on her relationship with her peers, but on her mental health as well. “When I’m with my friends, I catch myself thinking ‘please go away,’ not because they’re bad people or anything, but because I just want to be alone with my phone.”

This student, who reports that incidents of bullying and isolation by her peers have led her to create a persona for herself online, is not alone. A study from San Diego State University, for instance, reports that today’s teenagers are five times more likely to develop mental health issues than teens were during the Great Depression.

SDSU psychologist Jean Twenge, who led the study, speculates that social media has given rise to teenagers creating false ideals for themselves. This can be cultivated in numerous ways, most notably by social media celebrities, who usually opt to show only the best parts of their life online, creating an impossible ideal for their majority-teenage following.

This engagement can quickly lead to feelings of depression and self-resentment.

As reported in a study from Common Sense Media, roughly 50 percent of teenagers feel addicted to their phones, along with 78 percent of teachers who check their phone hourly. To the same effect, the study reports 66 percent of parents expressing that their children spend too much time on their phones.

Carmel High support counselor Lauren Capano says that the correlation between depression in teenagers and cell phone use makes sense and is accurate to the experiences of students she talks to on a regular basis.

“I think it’s really on a case-by-case basis,” Capano says. “But I think it’s really important for kids to get outside time.”

Capano goes on to note that social media can influence teenage behavior and that attention online can feed self-esteem.

The CHS junior explains, “I’m an artist, and my social media is mostly filled with art, so when I make a post, I get excited when I see a bunch of people liking an art piece I worked really hard on.” However, she reports feeling discouraged upon getting less attention than expected.

“I’ll do this petty thing where I look at other people’s posts, tell myself ‘that didn’t take a lot of effort,’ and wonder why they would get more likes than me,” the junior reflects. “I’ll come to the irrational conclusion that people just don’t like me as much and I have to try harder.”

The student also likens Instagram ‘likes’ to peer approval, leading to a feeling of gratification due to making worthwhile and popular content.

Meanwhile, a 2016 report from Influence Central shows that the ever-decreasing average age for a child to get their first phone has fallen to roughly 10.3. This means that, on average, children as young as 10 years old now have readily available access to social media and may be increasingly susceptible to its effects.

“I would probably wait to give my child a phone for a while,” says CHS librarian Valarie Seita, expressing that some parents expose their children to cell phones too early. “It’s a lesson in responsibility.”

Likewise, a freshman boy at CHS recounts how getting his first phone at 10 years old caused him to isolate himself from his peers.

“It used to draw me away from extracurricular activities and other experiences I could’ve had,” the

freshman reveals.

This experience matches up with Capano’s definition of isolation.

“Teenagers will start sleeping more, watching more television and staying home instead of going out with friends like they used to,” Capano remarks. “Often, technology replaces that friendship bond.”

Some doctors and specialists, including Dr. Pamela Rutledge in an interview with DigitalTrends, argue that there is no age at which a child should receive a cell phone, and that it depends on the maturity of the child.

“It has to do with the maturity of the child, it has to do with how the cell phone is being used, and it has to do with the parent’s ability to understand how the child is using the phone,” Rutledge argues.

However, various studies link earlier exposure to phones and the ever-expanding world of social media with children becoming more susceptible to the effects. Earlier use of social media can lead to a more extensive use of various platforms—something which has been linked to increased levels of anxiety and depression, according to a study by Computers in Human Behavior. In this survey, 1,787 young adults were surveyed and asked how many social media accounts they frequent. In total, those ranging between seven and eleven different accounts reported greater levels of depression than those reporting lower social media use.

The issue has not gone unnoticed by the teenage population. In an attempt to curb potential phone addictions, numerous apps have been developed to monitor phone use, along with students reporting that they or their parents actively try to get them to experience a world outside of their phone.

“My best method for staying off my phone is to occupy myself with other stuff like sports or hobbies to help distract me,” junior Ryan Stannard says. “If you find something you enjoy doing more than being on your phone, it’s easier to be freed from distractions.”

Likewise, many parents of teens make the decision to help their children stay off their phones. When handling the relatively new problem of a phone addiction, parents, students and teachers alike stress the importance of balancing phone time with time outside, time in school and time with family.