Why Are Our Teens So Depressed?
By Pat Matuszak
No matter how much we talk about staying young or looking young, few of us would be willing to actually become young again. Go through puberty all over again? Never! Actually be 16-years-old again? No thanks! Even though movies romanticize teen years and fashion trends suggest that we should be Forever 21, we know there are many drawbacks and challenges to that era of life.
Teen years are tough for many reasons. The changes that a human being goes through growing from childhood into a teen can be confusing. Teens wish life was still simple but long to know everything about its complexity. They want to be the trendy authority and independent expert on all things from fashion to fusion, but they still need help from parents for everything from lunches to homework. They replace those sweet childhood friendships with cliques and gossip. Then there’s puppy love, sexual identity, loneliness and the awkward silence that’s filled with dread. Nightmare!
And the nightmare has grown worse today, if you listen to the psychologists and statistics. Since 2011, depression has risen 50 percent and suicide has tripled among 12- to 14-year-old girls. Psychologist and researcher Jean Twenge has suggested that screen time on social media is the culprit — those depression and suicide statistics flow alongside the statistics on more teens owning smartphones.1
Electronics, Social Media and Depression
Many teens spend over eight hours a day on social media. This can seem like every waking minute if you observe kids in the wild. Some teens sleep with their phones and wake up to early posts. They give up eye contact and actual conversation with everyone, especially with their peers. Instead of learning to work out social conflicts in person, they interact online and may create conflicts in cyberspace.
Twenge insists this is the root of the problem, and more research is on the way. What we know is that excessive electronic media is less healthy than a physically active life. It cuts down or eliminates time for other activities psychologists prescribe for growing good mental health.
A person’s mental health goes hand-in-hand with physical health, but teens are already known for doing the opposite of things that would help their health. Poor nutrition, inactivity and inadequate sleep feed depression, so their tendency to stay up late eating junk food and watching movies is often already working against them.2 Add hours of scanning social apps instead of getting out in actual social settings, and it’s no wonder depression is rising.
How to Talk to Your Teen About Depression
First give yourself a pep talk. Remember that you are the adult here, so respond reasonably and with mature understanding. Have patience.
Be ready to listen and to understand first. You may know your teen so well that you think you have the answers they need to hear. And that may be true. But what if a young person has closed the door to hearing your answers?
You do it by first letting them know you are listening. Listening is the ticket to being heard. Avoid the temptation to tell them about your own experiences before you hear them out. You could be on the wrong track about what is going on.
And that leads to this: Don’t get emotional if their answers surprise or frighten you. Take a deep breath and respond in a neutral way, such as: “Really? I didn’t know that. Tell me about it.”
How to Get the Help Your Teen Needs
Did your teen’s answers make you feel like you are in deep waters? Don’t hesitate to get some professional advice and help.
Clinical depression is rarely fixed by cheering your teen up with a talk, better nutrition, exercise, social activities and more sleep. Those things will improve their mental health, and it’s possible that’s all they need.3 But if depression symptoms continue there may be a chemical imbalance or psychological need. And if they mention suicidal thoughts, take them seriously and take action immediately.
Find experts in teen psychology near you. Include your teen in the decision about counseling. They need to be engaged in the process and participate willingly in therapy. Treating signs of depression seriously will help your teen learn to handle them early in life while their coping skills are still forming. It can lead to a life of being in control at their emotional helm instead of being swept away by depression.
1 Twenge, Jean. “Why So Many of Today’s Teens Are Depressed.” Psychology Today, August 25, 2017.
2 Smith, Melinda, et. al. “Parent’s Guide to Teen Depression: Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms and Helping Your Child.” Helpguide.org, January 2018.
3 Dreher, Diane. “The Alarming Rise in Teen Mental Illness” Psychology Today, January 24, 2018.