In the New York Times, a recent guest essay written by psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Jean M. Twenge, tackles the accelerating presence of depression, loneliness, self-harm, and suicide among the youth over the last decade. The timing, however, of evaluating these trends, comes at a moment 18 months after the beginning of the pandemic, when Haidt and Twenge believe society has an opportunity to curve this dismal trend.
But first, what did the two find in their study of adolescent depression and loneliness? Starting in 2012, depression, loneliness and self-harm have nearly doubled among teenagers. When speculating and testing what could've caused such a drastic change, they looked for pivotal events, global impacts that altered the course of daily lives. A couple key observations came to the forefront; 2012 was the first year that the majority of individuals owned a smartphone. By 2015, two-thirds of teens did as well.
Twenge and Haidt had correlated the rise in mental health concerns in teens with the extended use of smartphones and social media. Furthermore, they found a correlation between loneliness and depression; could social media, with it's over idealistic, superficial representations of happy lives and close relationships, be causing us to feel more and more alone? It feels this has been the debate over the past decade, however, there is data to backup this claim.
So what does this have to do with the pandemic? Twenge and Haidt essentially propose the idea that schools now have the opportunity to reclaim students humanity and social development. As schools resume this fall, administrations can begin to heal the youth through limiting smartphone use during the school day, forcing students to once again interact and talk to one another, face-to-face. In a time where we spent so much time behind a screen and so little with others in-person, Twenge and Haidt believe that the youth need this type of healing now more than ever. The two also emphasize the need for social media platforms and potential third parties to better regulate who is able to create an account on these platforms. In the same way we have age minimums on drinking and smoking, shouldn't we also have the same on things that have just as big an impact on teens brains' and social development?
To read more in-depth the details of Twenge and Haidt's study, please read the article here:
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