Teen Suicides Rise With Smartphone, Social Media Use
Teenage suicide rates in the United States rose between 2010 and 2015 after almost 20 years of decline, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published this summer. The suicide rate among teen girls actually reached a 40-year high. This increase has occurred alongside a surge in social media use. And evidence suggests that the two may be linked.
These statistics should be a wake-up call, especially for parents of adolescents.
Jean Twenge, author and psychology professor at San Diego State University, recently wrote a book in which she coined the term “iGen” to describe the generation born after 1995. In her article at the Conversation, she wrote, “In just the five years between 2010 and 2015, the number of U.S. teens who felt useless and joyless surged 33 percent in large national surveys. Teen suicide attempts increased 23 percent. Even more troubling, the number of 13-to-18-year-olds who committed suicide jumped 31 percent.”
“What happened so that so many more teens, in such a short period of time, would feel depressed, attempt suicide and commit suicide?” she asked. “After scouring several large surveys of teens for clues, I found that all of the possibilities traced back to a major change in teens’ lives: the sudden ascendance of the smartphone.”
Social Media Elite Knew the Dangers
It has been well documented that many tech giants, including Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, maintained strict control over their children’s technology use. They have keen insight into exactly how these technologies work, including how harmful they can be. They set strict limits on screen time during the school week (even banned screens entirely for their younger kids) and carefully considered what social media services they allowed their kids to use.
Even more revealing, it turns out that Facebook, one of the world’s most popular social media sites, was designed intentionally to “consume as much human attention as possible,” according to former president Sean Parker.
He left the company in part due to Facebook’s “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology” and “putting children’s mental health at risk.”
The Effects of Social Media on Mental Health
In his 2015 report “Social Media and Depression,” Steven Liu wrote, “This generation of teenagers is the first to grow up in the U.S. without ever having seen a world without texting, social media, and other similar forms of online communications.”
Liu continued, “According to a recent poll, 75 percent of teenagers own cell phones, and most use them for texting or social media, 22 percent of them accessing social media sites more than 10 times a day, and more than half using them more than once a day.”
Studies are beginning to show that social media can be detrimental and damaging to its users. “According to the British Psychological Society, approximately 90 percent of teenagers are on social media. Constantly seeing what their peers are doing on a day-to-day basis can be damaging to their mental health,” reported NorthShore.
The human brain has had to adapt to many changes since new technologies have been introduced, and the acceleration of the Internet and social media has had fascinating effects on the mind.
Why does social media have detrimental effects on mental health? And what is the solution to the growing depression and other negative effects that social media has on adolescent minds?
The ‘Like’ Feedback Loop
A PasteMagazine.com series titled “On the Mind: Your Brain on Social Media” details the immense power that hitting the “Like” button has over the mind. Under the subhead “The Power of ‘Liking’ Is Strong,” the series explains how the pleasure centers of our brains are wired when it comes to social media. “Brains crave ‘likes’ on social media. Like Pavlov’s dog, we’re trained to enjoy the rewards of another click, another emoji reaction, and another comment on our posts. … [I]n a study from 2016, Stanford scientists used brain scans and an Instagram feed to measure teens’ responses, … their brains lit up in the areas associated with rewards, social cognition and attention.”
As these studies have shown, the explosion of social media has had more of a negative effect on the mental health of young people.
With social media constantly running in the background, more and more young people are being sucked into the mire of roller coaster emotions and impulsive reactions. Social media addiction is so dangerous because once someone is hooked it is nearly impossible to break the habit, even if it is having a negative affect. The more social media platforms people are active on, the more they feel peer pressure and perceived expectations.
The findings also point out that people who are more anxious and socially insecure are more likely to be on social media excessively.
Many people on social media sites often present idealized versions of their lives, leading others to make upward social comparisons, which can lead to negative emotions such as jealousy, depression, social isolation, etc.
This may not directly apply to you, but if you are struggling with anxiety or insecurity, you may want to examine the amount of time you spend on social apps and websites.
There IS Value to Human Life
Social media does have some positive uses. It is when its use becomes excessive that it begins to have negative effects on the mind.
With the increase of young people actively participating in social media, a greater importance must be placed on teaching them about the dangerous effects it can have on their mental health and well-being.
A solution to this problem begins with emphasizing how dangerous and depressing social media can become if misused. The way we view and portray ourselves on social media can greatly affect our sense of identity. Our brains are constantly being rewired to crave certain types of emotions and reactions that these social media platforms give us.
“Interacting with people face to face is one of the deepest wellsprings of human happiness; without it, our moods start to suffer and depression often follows. Feeling socially isolated is also one of the major risk factors for suicide,” Twenge wrote.
Children and teenagers need to be aware of the messages that are being fed to them, that are constantly bombarding them without their knowledge. They need to set technology and social media limits, and they need to be taught to appreciate the invaluable importance of in-person relationships.
For a deeper understanding of the underlying causes of suicide, and its ultimate solution, read Dennis Leap’s article “The Truth About Suicide.” He wrote:
Suicide is not a disease or physical illness. It is a weakness of mind and character. Suicide will not stop until mankind experiences a spiritual renewal of mind and character. There is a way of life that produces true happiness, peace and lasting success. There is a way of life that teaches us how to face and overcome problems rather than resorting to suicide. The Incredible Human Potential will provide you the solution and inspiration you need to make it through life’s tough times.