A recent report points to teenagers’ use of smartphones as social media as a potential cause of mental distress.
The article, which was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, notes there has been in increase in teenagers in Ontario, Canada reporting “moderate to serious mental distress.” The report links the growth in these cases to the rise of social media and smartphones, which had become commonplace by 2011.
In 2017, for example, the number of teens reporting mental health concerns after using smartphones and social media increased to 39%, up from 24% in 2013. A similar increase was seen in teens using health services. In the years between 2007 and 2014, there was a substantial increase in children and teens hospitalized for mental health issues, with a 110% increase in hospitalizations for self-harm for Canadian teen girls seen between 2009 and 2014. Now, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Canadian youth.
In the United States, suicidal thoughts or attempts by children and teens has nearly doubled from 2008 to 2015, with the highest increase among teen girls. In the past two decades, a substantial pattern of growth emerged among self-reported symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts among high schoolers.
During this time frame, social media use and smartphones became more prevalent. The number of Americans ages 13 to 17 who use smartphones grew to 89%. Additionally, 70% of teenagers use social media compared to about 33% in 2012.
The use of social media and smartphones has been shown to have an adverse affect on teens’ sense of self.
In a cross-sectional survey of American and German university students, students who spent more time on Facebook were more likely to have feelings of envy, or FOMO, the fear of missing out. That has been found to have an increased association with stress on the social media platform.
But social media use has also been found to have an impact on body image. A review of 20 studies found an association between social media and disordered eating. After about 10 minutes of perusing Facebook, female participants in a randomized study reported feeling negatively compared to those who glimpsed an appearance-neutral control website.
Other studies reviewed in the report found that there was an association between excessive social media use and mental health, which correlated negatively with self-reported happiness, life satisfaction and self-esteem. There was also a link between overuse of social media and sleep deprivation, with U.S. annual survey data showing an exposure-response relationship between daily online media use for more than two hours a day and not getting enough sleep.
In an effort to combat the negative effects of social media use and having smart phones for youth, parents can take steps to set limits.
“No screen at dinner time. You can’t have your phone in your room at all because studies have shown that even if the phone’s in their room, it’s gonna disturb their sleep.’” said NBC News medical correspondent Dr. John Torres, who was not involved in the study. “Minimize phone distractions. ... Use the media together so you’re seeing what they’re doing and you can explain what they’re seeing and what they’re hearing on social media.”
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