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Smartphone Anxiety and Depression: The Struggle Is Real (Part 1)

Let’s take a quick journey together, going back in time to your adolescent days. Do you remember that time? Who did you hang around? What did you do with your free time? What kind of nonsense were you getting into? I don’t know about you, but “back in my day” life seemed simple. I played occasional sports, learned guitar, and always wanted to have a girlfriend. My normal routines consisted of going to school, church, hanging with family and friends, watching TV and playing outside. Now fast forward to today. What’s life like for our tweens and teens? Sure, there are similarities for all tweens and teens of any generation, but for this generation, life seems to be a bit more complicated. Our kids seem to be more anxious, stressed, depressed, lonely, and hurt than ever before. Why is that?

While it’s hard to believe that any issue is linked back to just one source, there is one major difference between our kid’s generation and all the ones before it: technology, namely smartphones. Smartphones have changed the game for our kids in that they now have access to any information at any time; it’s literally right at their fingertips. Without going into all the obvious dangers of this, there are a couple of stats that seem to show some correlation between smartphones and these teen issues. (***stats taken from an interview between CNN and Jean Twenge, author of iGen.)

  • In 2007, the iPhone was first released. This was the year that kicked off a downward trend of teens going out with friends and family much less than years before, as well as dating less. Statistically, this is the time teens felt more lonely and tired than ever before.

  • 2012 was the year when the percentage of Americans with a smartphone crossed the 50% mark. Statistically, this is when we see another big spike in spending less time with family and friends, dating less, and feeling more lonely and tired.

So the question is, why is this happening? Why do smartphones seem to produce these negative behaviors in our teens? This is such a big question that we are devoting these next few blogs to discussing it, but first we need to understand that, typically, nothing starts out as a bad thing; it’s what we make them out to be. Smartphones are not the “devil”, but how and why we use them is where problems can come in. So what are teens doing on their smartphones? What are they using them for?

What can smartphones provide?

Escapes and Connections

With the pressures of making good grades, keeping up with peers, hormones raging, bodies physically changing, etc., teens will naturally find a way to escape reality to help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety that is constantly on their shoulders. And smartphones are one easy way to escape these pressures. “It’s just my phone and me.” But the truth is teens primarily use their phones for connecting with others through social media. And this can cause even more stress and anxiety if they’re not careful. (Stay tuned for next week’s blog for why this is the case)

Attention and Voice

If there’s one thing that our kids long for its attention. They want to be noticed, heard, complimented, sought out, etc. And if they are scared or struggle to do this in person, they will strive to find attention behind a screen. It feels safer. Anytime someone posts something, it’s at least in part due to him or her wanting to be heard or seen. Smartphones and social media provide a way for this type of attention/voice to happen.

Better Self-Image

On a smartphone or social media, you can be anybody you want. You can be a better version of yourself so others will accept you. You can edit photos you post to make you look better. You can choose to only share the positives of your life and never let anyone see your flaws. In other words, these devices and platforms can provide a false image of ourselves if we want them to. And for teens who have the pressure of the world on their shoulders, this façade seems like an “un-harmful” way of making themselves feel better.

All in all, smartphones and social media are simply vehicles where tweens and teens are finding or trying to find relief, attention, and approval. And if left unchecked, the pursuit of these three things can produce much anxiety, stress, loneliness, and depression. But how so? Stay tuned for next week, as we’ll continue the discussion on why smartphones seem to be producing negative behaviors in our kids.

Continue Reading Part 2 now.

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