Every generation of parents faces its own new challenges. For the current crop of moms and dads — and in the midst of a pandemic, when screen time has in many cases become a necessity, rather than a choice — questions surrounding technology and adolescent mental health are among the most pressing and bewildering.
Are all screens created equal? And how much screen time is too much? Is social media uniquely dangerous? Different studies seem to yield different answers. While one group of experts issues warnings, another argues that concerns are overblown. Competing op-eds alarm or pacify.
This expert debate is set against a backdrop of what most consider to be historically steep increases in adolescent depression, anxiety, and suicide, even before the pandemic. “It’s unequivocally the case that we have one of the worst mental health situations among our youth that has been documented,” says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, EdD, a professor of psychology and education at the University of Southern California.
That situation is showing no signs of improving. According to a 2019 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), suicide rates among Americans aged 10 to 24 increased by 56% between 2007 and 2017. Some of the most pronounced increases occurred among the very young; suicide rates nearly tripled during that time period in kids ages 10 to 14.
Trends in youth depression and anxiety are on similar trajectories, and young women seem to be experiencing these challenges more than young men. According to federal data collected from across the country, more than one in five adolescent girls experienced a major depressive episode at some point during 2018, the most recent year for which data are available. That represents an 84% increase during the past decade. Rates of depression among young women have risen steadily since 2009, which suggests the cause or causes of their struggles are the result of persistent phenomena.
“Is it coincidence that all this happened at the same time as the social media and smartphone revolutions? Could be,” Immordino-Yang…