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Screen Time is Creating an Anxious Generation, Studies Say

Photo from Becca Tapert via Unsplash

Screen Time is Creating an Anxious Generation, Studies Say

By Movieguide® Contributor

An alarming number of American teens are struggling to cope with present anxieties and don’t have a positive outlook for the future.

Gen Z (young people between the ages of 12 and 27) is the most depressed generation to date, according to Gallup research. While the political and economic trends play a role in the teen mental health crisis, NYU professor Jonathan Haidt believes Smartphones and social media are to blame.

“Smartphones and social media fundamentally changed the way teens spend their time outside of school,” said Jean Twenge, a psychologist and author of the book “Generations.” “You take a generation of young people, they’re spending a lot more times in their rooms, alone, not sleeping, not hanging out with their friends in person. That’s a pretty bad formula for mental health.”

Axios reported the shocking numbers of teen depression and suicide rates that surfaced after the introduction of the smartphone in 2007. The outlet wrote:

  • Rates of depression and anxiety among U.S. adolescents were “fairly stable in the 2000s” but “rose by more than 50% in many studies from 2010 to 2019,” Haidt writes in The Atlantic.
  • The suicide rate for kids between the ages of 10 and 14 tripled between 2007 and 2021, according to the CDC.
  • The share of U.S. high school girls who seriously considered attempting suicide jumped from 19% in 2011 to 30% in 2021, per the CDC. The share of boys who considered suicide rose from 13% to 14%.
  • Just 1 in 3 12-to 17-year-olds say things are going well for children and teens today, per a recent Common Sense Media survey.

While studies reveal that screen time is causing a mental health crisis for teens, the amount of time they spend online is increasing, per Axios. They wrote:

  • In the early 2000s, middle and high school kids saw friends in person about 3 times a week. Now, that’s closer to 1.5, according to data from the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future project.
  • At the same time, screen time has skyrocketed. Teens spend an average of 4.8 hours on social media apps like TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat every day, according to Gallup. Among teen girls, that ticks up to 5.3 hours.
  • Teenagers are inundated with notifications, with one study estimating they get 237 pings a day, Haidt notes.

The U.S. Congress is currently debating the fate of TikTok, which could shift how American teens spend their time.

“It’s of course possible that people will replace TikTok time with YouTube time or Instagram time,” said Twenge. “However, TikTok’s algorithm is particularly effective at getting you to spend more time on it.”

Movieguide® previously reported on the negative effects social media has on children’s mental health:

NYU social psychologist Jonathan Haidt believes the damage social media wreaks on children’s mental health is undeniable; he is now pushing to hold companies accountable for the damage they have done.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” Haidt told PEOPLE. “There’s massive evidence of harm. It happened in many countries at the same time, at a specific point in time: the moment when teens traded their flip phones for smartphones. It’s as if you had a murder, and all eyewitnesses point to this suspect. There is no other explanation.”

According to Haidt, rates of anxiety and depression skyrocketed among youth worldwide around 2012, five years after the iPhone was released and two years after Instagram debuted. He believes the link between these occurrences is not incidental, and lawmakers have allowed social media companies to get away with something inexcusable.

“Imagine there was suddenly a toy introduced which would cause children to get less sleep, less exercise, spend less time with other children. It would make them incredibly self-conscious, and it would lower their self-esteem and cause depression and anxiety. That would be horrible, right?” he said. “We’ve seen the loss of the play-based childhood, which kids have always had, in favor of a phone-based childhood.”

“If Congress said, ‘You have to be 21 to drink, but we’re going to give immunity to the alcohol industry—it’s the parents’ job to keep their children out of bars,’ that’s the situation we’re in with social media. It’s absurd,” he added. “Parents can’t possibly do that.”

“The most important thing the government can do is raise the age for social media use to 16,” Haidt continued. “Right now, the law says 13, and there’s no enforcement. Once kids are on, there’s no way to make it safe. Social media is brutal for children. It’s crucial to require social media companies to age verify.”

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Our small team works tirelessly to provide resources to protect families from harmful media, reviewing 415 movies/shows and writing 3,626 uplifting articles this year. We believe that the gospel can transform entertainment. That’s why we emphasize positive and faith-filled articles and entertainment news, and release hundreds of Christian movie reviews to the public, for free. No paywalls, just trusted, biblically sound content to bless you and your family. Online, Movieguide is the closest thing to a biblical entertainment expert at your fingertips. As a reader-funded operation, we welcome any and all contributions – so if you can, please give something. It won’t take more than 52 seconds (we timed it for you). Thank you.

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4000+ Faith Based Articles and Movie Reviews – Will you Support Us?

Our small team works tirelessly to provide resources to protect families from harmful media, reviewing 415 movies/shows and writing 3,626 uplifting articles this year. We believe that the gospel can transform entertainment. That’s why we emphasize positive and faith-filled articles and entertainment news, and release hundreds of Christian movie reviews to the public, for free. No paywalls, just trusted, biblically sound content to bless you and your family. Online, Movieguide is the closest thing to a biblical entertainment expert at your fingertips. As a reader-funded operation, we welcome any and all contributions – so if you can, please give something. It won’t take more than 52 seconds (we timed it for you). Thank you.