Articles for Parents

Everything listed under: depression

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    What You Need to Know About Smartphones, Teens and Depression

    Panicking About Your Kids’ Phones? New Research Says Don’t is the title of an article in the New York Times. 

    The writer says a growing number of academicians are challenging the true impact of social media and smartphones, questioning whether too much time on devices is actually the culprit for the dramatic increase in anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, especially in teens.

    Before you jump on that bandwagon, believing the claims, you might want to hear what psychologist Jean Twenge has to say. Twenge is a professor of psychology at San Diego State and author of numerous books including Generation Me and her most recent release, iGen: Why Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.

    In a blog for the Institute for Family Studies, Twenge calls out the NYT writer on six facts that, she claims, he ignores. 

    Twenge contends that the NYT article grossly misrepresents the research consensus on technology and mental health because the article makes it sound as if the majority of researchers have concluded that technology use isn’t related to mental health. Twenge says that is not the case. 

    “The article also misrepresents findings from a recent review of screen time and mental health studies,” writes Twenge. “The article does mention a recent review of studies on screen time and mental health by Amy Orben, who concluded that the average correlation between social media use and depressive symptoms is between .11 and .17.”

    The article cites this study as evidence that the link is small, but Twenge argues these are not small effects. Data from the CDC’s Youth Risk Survey of US High School students indicates that twice as many heavy users of electronic devices (5+ hours a day) compared to light users (1 hour a day) have attempted suicide (12% vs. 6%).

    Twenge states that the NYT article quotes experts who, without plausible evidence, dismiss the possibility that the rise of social media and smartphones might be behind the marked rise in teen depression, self-harm and suicide in recent years. The article quotes Jeff Hancock of the Stanford Social Media Lab as saying, “Why else might American kids be anxious other than telephones? How about climate change? How about income inequality? How about more student debt?”

    “The problem with this argument is that none of these factors can explain the increase in teen mental health issues that began in 2012,” Twenge writes. “First, they didn’t happen at the same time. The largest increases in income inequality occurred between 1980 and 2000… Student loan debt has been stable since 2012. The number of Americans worried a fair amount or a great deal about climate change went from 73% in 2012 to 74% in 2019.”

    Twenge contrasts this with 2013, the first year the majority of Americans owned a smartphone. By 2018, 95% of teens had access to a smartphone and 45% of them said they were online “almost constantly.”

    “The largest increase in self-harm, self-poisoning and suicide occurred among 10- to 14-year-old girls,” Twenge writes. “Hancock would have us believe that 10- to 14-year-olds are harming themselves because they are upset over income inequality or possibly someday having to pay off student loans after college - not because they are bullied online, not because they feel constant pressure to look perfect on social media, not because they can access online sites instructing them in self-harm, and not because electronic communication has replaced in-person interaction, a basic human need.”

    While Twenge does state that concern about climate change seems plausible, she asks, “How many 12-year-old-girls do you know who are cutting themselves because the planet is warming? It is much more likely they are concerned about self-image, social status, friendships and family relationships - all issues that have become fraught in the age of social media.” 

    Twenge also notes that the rise in depression, self-harm and suicide has been considerably larger among girls than boys. She contends that all of the issues listed above should impact boys and girls equally. Thus, they do not explain why the rise would be larger for girls.

    Technology use, however, does differ by gender. Girls spend more time on social media, which may be more toxic than the gaming which is more popular among boys.

    Twenge calls out the author for combining two completely separate questions - whether technology use is related to depression among individuals and whether the increase in smartphone and social media use is related to the generational increase in teen depression.

    “Even teens who don’t use technology have been affected by the shift in teen social life from in-person get-togethers to online interactions,” Twenge says. “Consider a teen who doesn’t use social media and would prefer to go out with her friend, but who will she go out with when everyone else is at home on Instagram?”

    The NYT article also points to Europe as proof that smartphones are not behind the increase in teen depression, yet the evidence shows otherwise. The study used to make the case examines adults, not teens. The World Health Organization reports increases in suicide rates around the world, with the largest increases among youth.

    The last point Twenge makes is that while the researchers claiming that technology use is unrelated to well-being said they had not taken any funding from the tech industry, one of them is currently employed and one was previously employed by the Oxford Internet Institute, which is funded by Facebook, Google and Microsoft. 

    “Parents can rest assured that their instincts to protect their kids from too much screen time are not wrong,” Twenge writes. “If kids who ate five apples a day versus one were twice as likely to attempt suicide, parents would make extremely sure their kids didn’t eat too many apples. Why should our response to technology time be any different?”

    The moral of this story is - don’t believe everything you read. Check the facts for yourself. What you don’t know can hurt you and the ones you love.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 1, 2020.

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    How to Prevent Depression in Teens

    A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics indicates that the suicide rate among 10- to 24-year-olds has increased a startling 56% over the last decade. Suicide has become the second-most common cause of death among teenagers and young adults. 

    “Pediatricians have indeed seen a huge increase in depression and anxiety in adolescents over the last few years,” says Dr. Nita Shumaker, pediatrician. “I spend a lot of time talking to parents about lifestyle choices affecting mental health.”

    While no one knows for sure what is causing this dramatic increase in teen suicide, the trend is extremely disturbing. Some experts are referring to this as a public health crisis and wondering why there is not more of an outcry for something to be done.

    Part of the problem may be that no one is clear about what is causing this uptick. It could be technology, violent video games, television shows, bullying, not enough likes on Instagram posts, the ease in which someone can compare their life to their friend’s highlight reel or who knows what else.  

    “It is clear that there are a lot of factors at play when it comes to teens and their mental health,” Shumaker says. “I start early talking about letting electronics into the home. It is a portal for both good and evil to enter into children’s lives. And electronics are really not the problem, it’s the all-access pass that so many children have to technology that is the problem.”

    Another issue Shumaker notes is sleep deprivation. 

    “Sleep deprivation is a torture technique and a well-documented trigger for anxiety and depression,” Shumaker says. “Not getting enough sleep leads to more impulsive behavior as well as poor performance in school.”

    The current recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is that children and adolescents have no electronics in the bedroom.

    “Allowing electronics in the bedroom means that adolescents spend an enormous amount of time alone, unsupervised and on the internet,” Shumaker says. “This means that fundamentally they are separated from the family, which I believe is another potential cause of depression and anxiety. Having electronics in the bedroom means parents don’t put their kids to bed anymore - their electronics do.

    “We are missing such valuable time with our children and their mental health is suffering from it. We as a culture are abandoning our children to the internet and it is literally killing them.”

    What can we do to help our kids?

    • Your presence matters. Practice what you are trying to teach. Be intentional about disconnecting from your phone and other technology and actively engage with your kids.
    • Set limits with technology use, including amount of time on screens and where technology lives in your home. (And don’t expect your children to thank you for setting boundaries!)
    • Be vigilant about making sure they get enough rest and seriously limit distractions that could keep them awake. Help them make healthy food and exercise choices, as these can impact other areas of life.
    • Talk with them about the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety and discuss ways to manage them so they are educated not only for themselves, but also for their friends. Contrary to what some believe, talking about these symptoms or the topic of suicide does not increase the risk of suicide.
    • Make them aware of helpful resources both locally and nationally. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) 
    • Suicide Resource Center - The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has a whole host of resources for teens and families.
    • Give your teen household responsibilities. You may think your teen already has so much on their plate, but including teens in household chores helps them feel connected and it teaches them responsibility as well as how to manage their time.
    • Create space for your family to do things together on a regular basis. Make sure they are getting helpful information from you, and not just taking their cues from their friends.

    Our children are living in a complicated world for sure. Although no one can definitively say why there is such an increase in suicide among our young people, we cannot afford to sacrifice the mental health or lives of our children. We must be intentional in our efforts to help them. Whether they will admit it or not, they are counting on our guidance to navigate this time in their lives.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 3, 2019.


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    What Teens Are Saying About Social Media and Their Parents

    Should your parent check your phone?

    When you sit down to a family meal, are people on their devices?

    Do your parents follow you on social media?

    These are just a few of the questions from an informal survey of more than 1,000 middle and high schoolers during March and April of 2018. The responses might surprise you.

    When students were asked if their parents ever checked their phones, 82 percent said their parents never checked or only checked it once or twice a year. Forty-five percent of respondents said they are not on their phones or watching television during family meals, and 22 percent said they don’t eat meals together as a family.

    When it comes to social media, 45 percent of the teens said their parents follow them on some apps while 28 percent said their parents do not follow them on any social media apps. Only 27 percent said their parents follow them on all their social media apps.

    Overwhelmingly, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, iMessage, FaceTime, Facebook and Twitter were the most popular apps, used by 60 percent or more. Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube were all above 80 percent.

    Here’s where things really get interesting. 

    When asked about negative experiences on social media:

    • 56 percent of respondents said they had been contacted or messaged by a complete stranger. 
    • Over 46 percent said they have been unfriended, unfollowed or deleted from someone’s account. 
    • More than 39 percent said someone had asked them for inappropriate/sexual pictures. 

    And when it comes to breaking up, 36 percent said someone had broken up with them by text or another form of social media.

    The final question, “Has social media ever made you feel stress, anxiety or depressed?” had some very interesting results. Overarchingly, 45 percent of respondents said social media never makes them feel stress, anxiety or depression. However, in unpacking the data, 62 percent of middle-schoolers said social media never makes them feel this way. Conversely, by 12th grade, 60 percent of teens say it has contributed to stress, anxiety and depression.

    Another aspect of this involves structure and parental engagement in the home. Teens who say their parents are actively involved in overseeing their social media engagement reported significantly less stress, anxiety and depression than teens who reported less parental involvement. Teens who reported the least amount of structure and parental engagement also reported the highest levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

    Before you convince yourself that technology is the problem, breathe. The truth is, technology will only continue to evolve and move faster as time goes by. Being tuned in to your child is their best hope for navigating those changes in a healthy manner. In a previous survey, teens were asked what helped them make good choices with social media and phone usage. The number one answer was “knowing that my parents check my phone.”

    It may be tiring and frustrating, but you are the best app for your child’s phone.


    Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV!