Dr. Patricia Farrell on Medika Life

Unhappy or Depressed Teens and Social Media’s Involvement Isn’t So Simple

Access to the internet with thousands of respondents doesn’t seem to be the only thing causing mental health issues with teens.

Social media and its influence on teen depression and anxiety isn’t a straightforward issue because research appears to offer differing information on its impact and the reasons teens gravitate to social media. If there is no preeminent focus on remediating this mental health situation, how do we approach it? Take away the smartphone. Limit the time on the cell. Set an age when it’s acceptable.

Teenagers and young kids use their smartphones a lot to browse social media, particularly Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The average age of first use is decreasing to 12 to 13 years, indicating the necessity of establishing a personal social identity before using social networks. Due to their screen size, interactive features, and capacity to stream information like video games, films, photographs, and applications, smartphones are gradually replacing desktop computers as the devices of choice for younger people.

When we consider that the brains of children are not fully formed until about the age of 25, we can appreciate that teens and younger children are not equipped to see the risk of excessive media devices like smartphones. If parents discourage this abuse, especially around bedtime or in the morning when they arise or during school hours, it may not address the “addiction” to the media. And the word “addiction” is being used, but is it really the proper word to use?

The risk factors of excessive use of social media are numerous. They include overuse, uncontrollable behaviors like checking for alerts all the time, mental health issues including sadness and anxiety, and physical issues. Even the physical problems are a result of this behavior. When using cell phones, youth with smartphone addiction had considerably flexed cervical posture and reduced cervical range of motion, according to measurements made using an inclinometer.

10,000 questionnaires in total in Italy were filled out for a study on cell phone use. Youngsters reported using their phones for more than 3 hours (41%), more than 2 hours (29%), more than 1 hour (21%), and less than 1 hour (9%) per day. Children using the devices right before bed (38%), during class (24%), and right when they wake up in the morning (21%), were found to be using them problematically.

Fourteen percent of teenagers had addictions that had been recorded. Low academic results, impaired concentration (24%), neck and back pain (12%), insomnia (10%), and mood changes (7%) were among the effects that were noted. The results, therefore, confirmed that there are both psychological and physical issues associated with the excessive use of these digital devices. This was true in other European countries where research has been initiated, such as Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, and Serbia, where over 80% of children aged 9–16 use a smartphone to access the Internet at least once a day. One problem with most of these studies, however, is that they are based on self-report, a potentially highly biased means of research.

Is there any positive use of cell phones by adolescents? Teenage boys and girls are nearly equally likely to say they use their gadgets frequently or occasionally to interact with others (85% vs. 83%, respectively), pass the time (both 90%), or learn new things (79% vs. 87%), according to a survey. But it may also be a means of avoiding face-to-face communication, and we have to wonder what might be behind that. Fifty-four percent of the girls in this survey said that they use phones to avoid physical interactions, while boys use the phone in this way a bit more than thirty percent. Half of the sample believed they used cell phones too much and wanted to cut back. But in a culture that is heavily geared toward their use, is it possible to cut back? When more than half of the teens said they used the phones to avoid feeling lonely or anxious, especially girls, it presented challenges for them.

University students, too, expressed heavy use of cell phones. They, too, have both physical and mental difficulties associated with it, complaining of chronic neck and back pain, eye strain, weight gain, depression, and loneliness. The alternatives recommended were more physical activities planned for students and activities that could cut down on the use of phones. In a world of more than 6.5 billion users, one has to wonder how the decreased use of phones might play out when stress and loneliness appear to drive their use.

How can parents, guardians, or schools help to offer solutions to excessive cell phone use? Hobbies, social interactions, and physical activity can all influence a more balanced lifestyle for teens and younger children. Urge the young person to take part in social activities, make genuine connections with friends, and spend time with family in person.

A cell phone can be an important tool in our worldwide culture, but it can also disrupt lives in negative ways in terms of mental health, isolation, and physical problems, too.

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Pat Farrell PhD
Pat Farrell PhDhttps://medium.com/@drpatfarrell
I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.


Medika Editor: Mental Health

I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

Patricia also acts in an editorial capacity for Medika's mental health articles, providing invaluable input on a wide range of mental health issues.

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