If you’re thinking that this must be the loneliest generation to date, you’re right. According to recent trends, about 8 million U.S. teens spend more time connecting via social media than face-to-face time with friends. What this tells us is that teenagers are losing those opportune moments to meet up and socialize. Since the 70’s, fewer kids between 8thand 12thgrade are spending less in-person time socially interacting than in previous generations.
So, who do we blame for teens feeling that sense of loneliness? A lot of is social media and smart phone use. It’s replaced that quality face-to-face time with friends and family. The decline of healthy interaction amongst teens is not just an individual one either. I know teenagers who don’t even have social media apps (like SnapChat or Instagram), and yet it affects them because other kids they would normally hang out with who do have access to social media are not engaging in peer activities either. Perhaps they’re too busy scrolling on Instagram alone in the comfort of their own homes, or spending more screen time that’s replaced their actual quality time with people they care about. And, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
We wonder why this generation has increased levels of anxiety and depression. It appears the new norm of digital communication has become the absolute worst formula for mental health and well- being.
Rather than blaming and wasting our energy on the digital devices that we basically hand to our teens, and where these devices have become the crux of social interaction for Gen Z, let’s instead help guide our teens in the right direction. The health problems and feelings of loneliness and depression will only perpetuate if we allow our kids endless unregulated time using digital media and their phones. We can’t expect teens to learn the importance of human interaction if we’re not teaching them by example either.
How often do you socialize as a family at the dinner table or dine in restaurants where no phones or digital devices are present? This happens to be the loneliest generation on record and we’re not tuned into our own families, yet our expectations are that our children be humanly connected with the outside world. And, what about emojis replacing human emotions – hearts and smiley faces that show love and affection, or tired faces and cries that convey sadness. Parents share their own fears with me about cell phone communication destroying their relationships with their families, so let this be the driving force of showing our teens real family engagement so it begins the manifestation of expressing real life emotion and the things that matter the most.
When teens lack that sense of human interaction, there can be other factors often involved as well, but one way of this generation feeling less lonely is to be more mindful of just how much communication should be expressed digitally. Let’s shift the perspective and when we have something to say or want to do, connecting in person could be the beginning of improving mental health – and not for just teens.