My life is not useful! I can’t do anything right! I do not enjoy life!
Dr. Jean Twenge, American psychologist and author of “Generations: The Real Differences Between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers and Silents — and What They Mean for America’s Future,” discussed the alarming increase in negative feelings among teens recently in the New York Post.
Self-deprecating statements and depressive thoughts are much more common among teenagers nowadays than a decade ago, with social media appearing to be the main trigger of those feelings.
The Impact Of Social Media On Teenagers
Twenge bases her remarks on the yearly results of Monitoring The Future, an ongoing study on teenagers conducted by the University of Michigan. According to Twenge’s analysis of the study, the main cause of depressive symptoms among teens nowadays is social media and screen time.
Since 1991, the University of Michigan has asked 50,000 students in 8th, 10th, and 12th grade how much they have agreed with the following statements: “My life is not useful,” I do not enjoy life,” and “I can’t do anything right.” They estimated that agreements with these statements were between 23%-27% when they began the study in the early nineties.
The rates of depressive symptoms have increased exponentially since the early 2010s when the mass popularization of smartphones began. Fast forward to 2023, and the levels of agreement have almost doubled.
Many students now agree with the statements “I can’t do anything right” (49.5%), “My life is not useful” (44.2%), and “I do not enjoy life” (48.9%).
“These are staggering numbers, just enormous increases, and parents are rightfully very concerned about their children’s mental health,” Twenge told The New York Post.
An Unprecedented Mental Health Toll
The bouts of sadness and hopelessness are in line with a recent government survey, which tells us that almost 60% of U.S. teen girls report feeling this way on a persistent basis. This is up from 36% in 2011.
29% of male students have also reported feeling persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness, up 8 percentage points since 2011.
Worryingly, among the findings in 2021, nearly 25% of girls made a suicide plan, and almost 20% of girls experienced sexual violence within the past year.
What Are Teens Facing Nowadays?
Social media has brought on an array of problems for young people, which hasn’t helped depressive symptoms. Some of the new challenges social media bring to the table include:
1. The Pressure to Look Perfect
Imagine being a teenager growing up in a world where everyone seems perfect on Instagram or Snapchat. The constant pressure to look good, maintain a ‘cool’ image, or create the ultimate TikTok video can be exhausting.
A survey conducted by YMCA of 1,000 teens aged 11-16 found that around 60 percent of teens admit they feel pressure to look ‘perfect’ on social media. While 52% blamed social media, 58% said celebrities are at fault.
2. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
Teenagers, who are naturally in a phase of exploring social dynamics, often suffer from this phenomenon, known as FOMO. When every moment seems to be happening online, those not involved might feel left out or isolated, which can cause feelings of depression and anxiety, according to Psychiatric Times.
3. Cyberbullying and Negative Feedback
A single unkind comment on a post can ruin a teenager’s day or even lead to more severe emotional distress. 59% of teens in the U.S. said they have been bullied or harassed online, according to the Pew Research Center.
The need to feel accepted and appreciated is a vital part of adolescence, and social media can sometimes be a cruel judge.
What Do People Think Of This Matter?
Going back to Dr. Twenge’s findings, these were featured on an Instagram post by Pubity, a news and entertainment account. People left their thoughts on the matter in the comments section.
“Look around you. It’s not just social media depressing kids; it’s the state of the f—– world we brought them into,” said one user.
“Just because of social media? I think it’s much more than that. The world has gotten worse and worse (climate change, politics, the economy). Teens are aware of these issues too,” commented another.
“This is heartbreaking, and it’s research like this that solidifies the need for safe tech for kids,” said one of the comments.
“Most of what you see on socials is fake, people trying to show a life that’s not theirs. Live your own life and work with it; that’s your reality,” replied another user.
In the end, social media isn’t inherently good or bad. It’s a tool, and like any tool, it’s all about how you use it. However, it doesn’t mean that we must ignore the alarming facts presented by Dr. Jean Twenge. We must act before it’s too late.
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I'm an Irish tutor and founder of TPR Teaching. I started teaching in 2016 and have since taught in the UK, Spain, and online.
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