Teens rely on their phones for just about everything. While their digital obsession might make sense, given their technological upbringing, too much connectivity can have serious consequences for teenagers (and their parents).
Teens’ Mental Health Woes
Today’s young people are more aware of mental health issues than previous generations — by a wide margin. That’s great, but awareness can only do so much. Research shows that teenagers today experience heightened rates of both anxiety and depression. Teenage girls are especially vulnerable, as they’re three times more likely to experience depression than their male counterparts.
What’s going on? For starters, today’s teens have a lot to worry about. Skyrocketing costs of college, regular drills to avoid school shooters, and concerns about climate change weigh heavily on teenagers’ minds. Add those grown-up concerns to traditional teenage problems, like dating and grades, and the resulting concoction would make anyone feel uneasy.
Smartphone Contributions to Anxiety and Depression
For teenagers, who already have plenty to worry about, social media and smartphones create echo chambers in which small issues become big ones; big issues become imminent catastrophes. Who can focus on grades when scientists issue grave warnings about the climate? Who cares about college when it feels like no one can earn enough money to escape student loans?
Even without social media, smartphone usage contributes to higher rates of anxiety and depression. In some cases, simply using a smartphone regularly is enough to deepen negative feelings. For parents of teenagers, this sobering truth leads to a difficult question: What can we do?
What Parents Can Do to Help
First off, parents can’t successfully help teens curb anxiety and depression by taking away their phones. Instead, there are some actions parents can take to help foster better phone use:
1. Help Teens Understand Healthy Phone Use
Instead of making ultimatums, parents should find time to help teens understand the difference between good and bad smartphone use. For instance, the internet is home to a lot of misleading and false information. Distributors of such information place lies between real news stories to appear more legitimate. Teens who have limited experience being deceived may not always know how to differentiate truth from fiction.
Parents deal with the same issues, so both teens and parents benefit when the two parties sit down together to evaluate information found online. When a teen makes an outlandish claim, parents should help the teen figure out whether the claim is true instead of shutting the conversation down. By learning to evaluate sources and gather trustworthy data, both parents and teens can put a cap on the effects of sensationalized headlines.
2. Limit Phone Use
For younger teens who haven’t yet become glued to their phones, limited phone use may be the best course. Stephen Dalby of Gabb Wireless actually created a kid-friendly smartphone to help with this issue. Dalby hopes that his device and others like it will help prevent kids from forming negative associations and habits that follow them into their teens.
Social media and cyberbullying present other challenges that parents didn’t deal with during their school days. The most important thing to do when a child experiences cyberbullying is to validate his or her feelings. It’s perfectly natural to feel hurt or upset when classmates post mean things online or send hurtful messages. The buffer of the internet can lead even normal people to say incredibly rude things under the wrong circumstances.
Parents of teens who experience cyberbullying must support their children by maintaining open lines of communication. In some cases, such as threats of violence, parents may need to involve school administrators or police. Keep the teen in the loop instead of taking unilateral action to foster a sense of togetherness during tough times.
3. Talk About Depression
For teens who cope with anxiety and depression by using their phones even more, professional psychological help may be necessary. Parents can’t solve everything alone. Fortunately, teens’ wider acknowledgment of mental health issues makes them more willing to get psychological help when they need it.
Take the time to talk to your kids about what depression is and what symptoms to look out for. The more regularly and openly you talk about it, the more likely your kids will be to let you know if they’re feeling any of the symptoms.
Smartphones will continue to play a major role in teenagers’ lives. Parents can’t turn back the tide of technology, but they can help teens during hard times by paying attention, keeping lines of communication open, and listening without judgment. When teens have unconditional support at home, they can tackle challenges like anxiety and depression with more confidence.