Parents with despondent teens take notice: a new study has found that teenagers are becoming increasingly depressed, having increased feelings of hopelessness, and have become more likely to consider suicide in recent years, and their cell phones may be to blame.
Researchers found a sudden increase in teens’ symptoms of depression, suicide risk factors and suicide rates in 2012 – right around the time when excessive smartphone use became the cultural norm.
Doctor Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, found that teens who spend five or more hours per day on their devices are 71 percent more likely to have at least one risk factor for thoughts of suicide, regardless of the content consumed. So even if teens are looking at positive content or chatting with their friends, the amount of screen time goes hand in hand with the higher instances of depression, not the content in question.
“It’s an excessive amount of time spent on the device,” Twenge says. “So half an hour, an hour a day, that seemed to be the sweet spot for teen mental health in terms of electronic devices.” The doctor went on to say that as screen time increased to even just two hours a day, there was a slightly elevated risk, and then at three hours a day and beyond was where the most pronounced increase occurred in those who had at least one suicide risk factor.
To help minimize the risk of developing depression, Twenge suggested that parents try to keep their children’s cell phone use to two hours a day or less, and to encourage them to place the phone down and spend screen-free time on activities that benefit mental health, such as seeing friends and family face-to-face or getting outside for a walk.
These suggestions are all well and good, but how do parents go about breaking their children’s cell-phone addictions? More importantly, how do they accomplish this “un-hated?”
When it comes to addressing existing feelings of depression, Sandra Norton, Clinical Director of the Children’s Department of the Center for Life Management in Derry states that it is crucial to not come across as judgmental. Norton stated that teens may lash out if they feel they are being judged by a parent, and as a result may close up and ignore a parent’s well-meaning attempt to help. The same can be said for excessive cell phone use. By approaching the issue honestly and as non-judgmentally as possible, and by frankly explaining concerns for their child’s well-being, parents and teens can combat smartphone and social media addiction together.
While it is certainly not the only contributor to teen depression and anxiety, nonstop smartphone use can certainly exacerbate existing issues. Talk to your child today, face-to-face, about your concerns.