Over the past few years we have noticed a significant increase in anxiety and depression in children and teenagers. We have identified some reasons, but not all of the reasons. Social media and smartphones have been identified as one source related to anxiety and depression in children and teenagers. Many parents agree and have described their teenagers becoming violent if they do not have access to their social media. It does appear that smartphones and social media do contribute to anxiety and depression in children.
A study done in South Korea appears to support the fact that social media and smartphones do increase anxiety and depression in teenagers. They also have documented teenagers being addicted to social media and smartphones.
South Korea is more technologically advanced than the United States. Therefore, it makes sense they are better able to document some of these issues than we are in the United States. South Korea found that 90 percent of their children over the age of 11 years old use smartphones and social media on a regular basis. They also found that 30 percent of these teens were addicted to social media and smartphones. Some teens were using their smartphones for 13 to 15 hours a day. The teens stated they usually start texting their friends and then may be using YouTube and 13 hours later they were still on their phones. They had no idea they had been using their smartphones as much as they were using their smartphones. Parents also noted their teenagers becoming violent if their phones were removed.
Since it definitely appears these teenagers are addicted to their smartphones, South Korea developed rehabilitation centers for teenagers addicted to social media and smartphones. These rehabilitation centers are reporting that they are very successful. The main component of their programs is teaching the teens to interact with people directly not using their phones or social media. Therefore, teens talk directly to each other and they do things together without technology. These programs have just started so we don’t know how long the teens continue this behavior once they leave the rehabilitation center. However, so far it looks very good.
South Korea researchers have been studying the brain activity of teenagers who have become addicted to social media and smartphones too. What they have discovered is since the adolescent brain is still developing, social media and smartphones impact the development of an adolescent brain. Specifically, they noted that teenagers who were addicted to social media and smartphones show less development in the frontal lobes of the brain. The frontal lobes are involved in the higher functions of our brain such as assessing, reasoning and decision making. The researchers have concluded that because the frontal lobes are not fully developing it is leading to anxiety, depression and violent outburst that we are observing in teenagers. While this may sound very alarming, there is a positive note to this problem. The researchers have also noted that if the amount of technology use is reduced to a healthier level such as two hours a day, the frontal lobes can start to grow again and even develop to their normal size. Remember in adolescence, a teenagers brain and central nervous system are still developing. Therefore, if you remove something slowing development, the brain can compensate and resume its normal development.
As a psychotherapist who treats teenagers, I would agree this is one issue why teenagers and children are reporting increased anxiety and depression. However, issues such as mass shooting and mass shooter drills are also definitely resulting in increased anxiety and depression in children and teenagers. The rise in anxiety and depression in children is a complex situation and we need to solve it a step at a time. Therefore, I would recommend that parents monitor how many hours their children use their smartphones and social medial per day. Not including homework, I would recommend one to three hours a day. Also I strongly recommend no smartphones in the bedrooms when children and teens go to bed. Hopefully this will help.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience working with children and teenagers. To find out more about his work or his private practice visit his website http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.