Cell Phones Still Somehow Get The Entirety Of The Blame For Teen Depression
from the little-too-convenient dept
For years now a strong narrative has emerged that the increase in teen depression (and suicides) is almost single handedly being caused by social media and cell phone use. Though quite often when you look a little more deeply at the studies in question you’ll find they’re a bit undercooked, tend to make overly broad assumptions about trends, and are often contradicted by other studies.
For example, a 2019 study out of the UK of 12,000 adolescents found that most links between life satisfaction and social media use were “trivial,” overall accounting for less than 1% of a teenager’s sense of wellbeing. Another study from last year combed through 20 different studies on social media’s impact on young adults and kids and found “there doesn?t seem to be an evidence base that would explain the level of panic and consternation around these issues.”
There’s clearly a lot going wrong in the world, and a lot of it emotionally exhausting. Yet for whatever reason cell phone social media usage continues to often get the entirety of the blame for teen depression. An opinion column in the New York Times last week, for example, points to a new study showing a dramatic spike around the world in “teenage loneliness” starting in 2012:
“In a paper we just published in The Journal of Adolescence, we report that in 36 out of 37 countries, loneliness at school has increased since 2012. We grouped the 37 countries into four geographic and cultural regions, and we found the same pattern in all regions: Teenage loneliness was relatively stable between 2000 and 2012, with fewer than 18 percent reporting high levels of loneliness. But in the six years after 2012, rates increased dramatically. They roughly doubled in Europe, Latin America and the English-speaking countries, and rose by about 50 percent in the East Asian countries.”
But again that whole causation/correlation monster rears its head. The author of the piece and study even proceeds to acknowledge that they couldn’t actually make the link the article itself is trying to forge:
“These analyses don?t prove that smartphones and social media are major causes of the increase in teenage loneliness, but they do show that several other causes are less plausible. If anyone has another explanation for the global increase in loneliness at school, we?d love to hear it.”
I imagine that the heavy dose of shallow peer comparison on social media and ceaseless marketing likely does contribute to some teen depression. And too much social media use likely isn’t the healthiest thing in the world. But blaming cell phones entirely for the problem of teen depression seems utterly too convenient. Often these platforms and technologies are just windows to cultural and environmental dysfunction, which, if you hadn’t noticed, there’s a hell of a lot of at the moment.
There’s structural racism, the continued threat of a white nationalist movement, the collapse of a stable environment leading to countless, recurring disasters, incompetently run and financed education systems (at least here in the U.S.), substandard mental health care (at least in the US), rampant mass murder via firearm (at least in the US), and examples everywhere you look of leaders proving themselves either too corrupt or incompetent to handle the challenges of the modern age. That the biggest contributor to teen angst is the fact they now have a supercomputer in their pocket — itself doesn’t really compute.