Screens and Mental Health

In the past 15 years, the number of teens who hang out with friends every day was cut in half. Most of the decline took place since 2010.

At the same time (and taking into the account not just this but everything I mentioned in the previous posts), rates of anxiety and depression amongst teens skyrocketed. Studies show that absolutely every single activity you can do online correlates with higher degrees of unhappiness. The more time you spend off-screen doing absolutely anything whatsoever, the higher your rates of satisfaction with your life are.

The risk of depression for teens who have an active social media presence is dramatically higher than for those who don’t. But it doesn’t work the other way around. Being depressed doesn’t lead to more social media use. (It’s exactly the same in adults, too. One study after another shows that, after you get through the initial withdrawal symptoms, there is nothing better you can do for your mental health non-medically than quitting social media. So if you are anxious or depressed, lock up the phone for a month.)

Two+ hours of screens increase a teen’s suicide risk. When it gets past 3 hours a day, the risk begins to spike and gets dramatic once you get past 5 hours a day.

Teenagers today are experiencing an unprecedented mental health crisis. Everybody who works with this age group will confirm this for you but there are also studies up the wazoo. And this is in times of peace and prosperity. What if there was actual adversity this already extremely psychologically vulnerable generation experienced?

13 thoughts on “Screens and Mental Health”

  1. Two+ hours of screens increase a teen’s suicide risk. When it gets past 3 hours a day, the risk begins to spike and gets dramatic once you get past 5 hours a day.

    I wonder if this is true for people with Asperger’s. It seems to me like online communication, or telephone communication for that matter, is a lower-stress way of keeping socially connected.

    Full disclosure: I have never been formally diagnosed as having Asperger’s; but on an online test you published here about a decade ago, my score was very high.

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    1. These studies show that teenagers who are very sociable online are more sociable in real life. While those who already suffer from issues of sociability are more marginalized and lonely both online and in real life. There is no evidence that social media alleviate these problems for kids with sociability issues. For adults, it’s different.

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      1. Even when I was withdrawing from everybody my senior year of high school, I still made comments on your blog — when it was still at Blogspot, no less. :p Then again, a blog like this or a small forum isn’t nearly the same as FB or Twitter or whatever. It’s more personal, and I felt able to connect a lot more in smaller online communities. There’s still something to be said about physically being around close friends, though. Keeping connected is a minimum requirement, but if I go without interacting with people at all for an extended amount of time it just makes it more likely for me to slip into a depressive mindset. I still need to see my friends every once in a while, if only to just watch a movie or do our own work in the same area.

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  2. Students hate online classes. The only ones who like them are older, doing online MBA for some specific reason, things like this. Otherwise they hate them. They are also dying to hang out in person and with people their parents’ age or older (me, as I am now, I used to be younger than their parents).

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    1. “They are also dying to hang out in person and with people their parents’ age or older (me, as I am now, I used to be younger than their parents).”

      Very interesting that you say that. One thing that surprised me about America (and I don’t know much about countries other than the US and India) is how age segregated the society is.

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  3. Also, and this is somehow related. You know all my Russian cousins, at least the ones directly descended from our common ancestor, are really good writers. You think you are reading Gogol or something. This is why: mothers send children off on adventures together, a group has to get from home to a theatre, see a play, and get back, or from home on some forest adventure or even just walk to look at a factory, depending on what is available. Then they come home and draw pictures of the adventure and write about it, and read their descriptions aloud. They did this during the Empire and also the Soviet Union, and they have conserved the writings and pictures. My point: notice how they are assigned to go hang out together and do something on their own, and describe it later. My cousin is trying to get the ones with kids now to keep doing this, we will see if she succeeds.

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    1. That sounds really amazing. I didn’t grow up this away, unfortunately. I couldn’t go out and roam with friends even when I was 18. Or even get phone calls from friends. I’m deeply envious of this kind of experience.

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      1. If you have over controlling parents (I had one) you can’t do this, or you can but it doesn’t work. I could go out like this and sometimes did, but the knowledge of Mom’s abandonment and reuniting issues made it more attractive sometimes to just stay home.

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        1. Same here. The first time I went to a friend’s birthday was when I was 15, and I left my mom screaming that she will disown me for this and cursing my existence. But by that time I was too old to be impressed by this spectacle.

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  4. Thanks so much for posting all this information here. What sources are you reading? This is all very sobering, although not completely surprising.

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