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Our Teens Are Facing a Mental Health Crisis

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

This month, in honor of National Mental Health Awareness Month, we’ve been focusing on mental health in parents and children. We can’t have a conversation about mental health without addressing social media and the demographic most affected by it—our teens.

Today, 95 percent of teens have access to a smartphone. Fifty-six percent of children and teens have their own social media accounts. And 45 percent of teens say they are online almost constantly.

With the rise of social media among teens, we have seen a deterioration in teens’ mental health.

A recent report in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology says that over the past decade there has been a 52 percent increase in depression among teens, with girls suffering more than boys. One out of every five teenage girls said they experienced a major depressive episode in the last year. From 2008 to 2017, death from suicide increased 56 percent among teens age 18 to 19.

The psychologists behind this research say that they can almost definitively connect the rise of social media among teens with the rise of anxiety and depression. No doubt, this is an epidemic among our teens today.

As adults, we can self-monitor our social media use. We know when enough is enough and when to put the phone down and do something else even though we might not do it every time. We are aware of when we’ve spent a little too much time on our screens. Our children, on the other hand, are not.

Teens, who are still children, don’t know how to self-monitor. This is why when it comes to social media and our kids, the parents’ role is vital. You may think you have no control over your child’s screen time or social media use. You may think it’s too late to take the phone away, but it’s not. And you do have control. You must believe this because as seen in the statistics above, your child’s mental health is at stake.

If your child struggles with anxiety or depression, get her off all social media. This will feel extreme to her, but social media is only adding to her anxiety and depression. It is not helping. If your child was diabetic, you wouldn’t keep feeding her sugar. It’s the same with social media. Get her off of it. Period.

If your child isn’t struggling with anxiety or depression or another mental illness, it is still important to limit social media. My recommendation is no more than 30 minutes per day. Your child may kick and scream at this. If so, you can wean him off by reducing screen time a little bit each week or each day, but when he is an adult, he will thank you for not letting him endlessly scroll through social media. Imposing boundaries on your child now will teach him how to impose boundaries on himself when he is an adult.

Lastly, focus on your child’s character. This is something I talk about often because it is so important, especially today when kids can constantly compare themselves to others online. Tell your son or daughter about the good you see in him or her. Don’t focus on outward appearances, performances or awards. Focus on qualities in them that will last, such as kindness, curiosity, and generosity. If you can convince your child that the important things are not what she’s seeing on social media, she won’t be affected by the comparison as much or the battle to appear perfect online. This will do wonders for her mental health now and in the future.

Social media isn’t all bad. It can be used for good, for connection, and for information, but teens don’t know when enough is enough, and they don’t yet understand appropriate online behavior. Parents, your child is looking to you to lead and teach him. With the mental health crisis our teens are facing today, your role in your teen’s life has never been more important.

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