Letter from the Editor
My mom told me about this great article she heard about on NPR.
“Oh, cool,” I replied as I feverishly checked my Snapchat. “What’s it about?”
“It’s about the undeniable link between smartphones and depression,” she explained. I quickly put my phone down, praying she wouldn’t point out the horrible irony. “It’s on The Atlantic. Check it out.”
The timing was too perfect. That week, my advisor suggested we download an app that keeps track of the amount of time we spend on our phones. I kept up with this app for three days before I got annoyed by the notifications and deleted it. On average, I spent about one and half hours on my phone a day. Although I did not know which apps I used, I can assure you 99% of the time I was either on Snapchat or Instagram. The sad part is, I deleted this app before the weekend, when my time on the phone easily doubled.
This weekend, I finally sat down, opened my computer and googled “The Atlantic smartphones and depression.” Within seconds, I was completely immersed in an article that rang true on all too many fronts. The article addressed adolescents’ relationships with their phones (including one quote from a teen who literally described her phone as one might describe a significant other), and how it has affected their friendships, their relationships, their independence, and even their mental health.
It’s difficult to prove that the smartphone is the culprit in this dramatic shift in teenager’s lives, but studies have figured out a way to demonstrate a correlation. A text message was sent to college students who go on Facebook five times a day, asking how much time they spent on the site, and how they would characterize their current mood. Without exception, the more time students spent on Facebook, the unhappier they were.
Reports of teenagers feeling left out spiked in 2013 and have not decreased since . When an adult asks me why I use social media, my answer is simple: to stay connected with my friends. But it’s a double-edged sword. Even though teenagers are 40% less likely to see their friends every day, when the friend group does hang out, everyone, and I mean everyone, knows about it. People will send snapchats, post stories (on Instagram and Snapchat), they’ll send mass snaps, and if the squad is looking particularly cute that day, you might be graced with a fully edited Instagram picture as well.
But let’s switch gears and consider the people who are lying in bed refreshing their Instagram feeds for hours on end. They see that picture, and an overwhelming feeling of loneliness washes over them. If these people are your close friends--ouch!--that hits you in the gut. If they're people you don't know very well, you begin comparing yourself to them, questioning why they are out on a Saturday night and you are in bed with yesterday’s makeup still on. I’ve been that person. You’ve been that person. It sucks. And this is something our parents did not have to deal with.
The author of the Atlantic piece, Jean Twenge, goes so far as to say that we are on the brink of a mental health crisis. The evidence she provides strongly supports her claim. Four times as many Americans now take antidepressants than in the 1990s. Boys’ depressive symptoms increased 21% from 2012–2015, when most teenagers began to acquire smartphones; girls’s symptoms increased 50%. Girls tend to be more affected by social media for a simple reason: they use it more often. They are also more likely to be the recipients of cyber-bullying, while boys are more likely to bully by physical means.
Developmental delays are another consequence of smartphone use . Today's 13-year-olds act more like 11-year-olds, Twenge explains, and 15-year-olds act more like 13-year-olds. Many of these side effects are actually positive. For example, there is less smoking and drinking than ever before; there are fewer alcohol-induced wrecks. There are also fewer significant relationships, and consequently less sex, resulting in a significantly lower teen pregnancy rate.
The reason? When teenagers are asked on surveys if they would rather go out with friends or stay at home, the overwhelming majority say they would rather go out; however, that is not what actually happens. Most of them are content to stay home. But even though kids are spending more time under the same roof with their parents, they are typically not any closer with their families. They are not spending more time on homework either: the amount of time high schoolers today spend on homework is roughly the same as it was in the 1990s. More teenagers had jobs in the '90s, so our generation has more leisure time than before. And what do we do with it? We’re on our phones. What have we learned that our increased phone time leads to? Depression, unhappiness, loneliness, and cyberbullying.
There’s got to be a way to strike a healthier balance. My hope is that by the time our generation is having children, we will have learned how to do this, so we can teach our kids how to balance technology and real life. A positive trend here is that most teenagers realize this is an issue, even though they may not be taking any steps to fix it.
Since Twenge's piece came out, critiques of her presentation of the data have been published, but I still encourage everyone--students, parents, faculty, and staff--to read the entire Atlantic article. it contains much more data, including a horrifying chart several details that are not appropriate for a high school newspaper. See the link below.
--Ada Cohen '18
Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.