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  • Writer's pictureJoAnn Fitzpatrick, MA

Teens and Anxiety – Why Use of Technology Matters

Ask any teen, family of a teen or someone involved with teens (i.e., teachers, coaches,

community leaders) about whether or not their use of technology raises feelings of anxiety, stress and/or triggers heated debates – especially between teens and their parents - and you will most likely get a passionate discussion. Teen use of technology includes but is not limited to their use of social media, apps and gaming. In my experience in recent years, no other topic seems to spark conversation or interest like this one. As a parent of emergent teenagers, the desire to understand what’s happening couldn’t be more real.

Here is a short YouTube clip that explores this issue:

How Social Media is Affecting Teens

Adolescence has long been understood to be a time of increased moodiness and angst. As

teenagers move through the developmental tasks of identity development and individuation

(developing a sense of self as separate while connected to others), it is expected that they will struggle with increased feelings of depression and anxiety. However, since around 2011 there has been a concerning spike in teen anxiety, depression and suicidality, creating what has been described as an emergent mental health crisis for our youth. It has been found that currently more than a third of teens suffer from severe and/or debilitating anxiety. The crisis is being felt in homes and on school and college campuses nationwide. While there are various causes of depression and anxiety in teens, there is one emergent variable that has been identified to be a critical game changer and main contributor to this crisis – particularly with the rapidly increasing rates of anxiety - and that is teen use of technology. So, what was going on in 2011? That was the year that about 50% of Americans now owned smart phones. By 2011, it was the norm for teens to own their own smartphones.

Dr. Jean M. Twenge’s research, presented in her 2017 book entitled IGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood – and What That Means for the Rest of Us, clearly demonstrates the undeniable correlation between teen smart phone use and the dramatic shifts occurring in teen mental health, development and behavior. This article in the Atlantic Journal summarizes her research findings.

Additionally, here is a brief YouTube clip with Dr. Twenge:

Expert Links Spike in Teen Anxiety & Depression to Dependency On Smartphones

It is safe to say that the smart phones and the use of technology is here to stay. So, it is critical that we continue to better understand the implications of its use on adolescent development.

Recently, I came across a recent blog post in our local online newspaper that was very interesting to read. It was written by teen about her experience with social anxiety as related to internet isolation over the summer and how it impacted her return to school. It is a meaningful example of how teens themselves can be very aware of the challenges that use of technology and its isolating effects on their social experience.

While we are recognizing the challenges and influences of the use of technology on teen

development, it is also important to be able to identify ways to guide and empower our teens to be able to take control of their use of technology – to be able to set limits for themselves, understand the benefits and dangers of its use in their lives and on their identity and relational development. It is a call to duty that requires the adults in their lives to not only become informed, but to get engaged with their teens around this issue, pay attention to what is happening for them and to take an honest look at what their own use is – what is being modeled for our young, developing generation of teens? If our own use isn’t healthy, then how can we expect any different from our kids? Lastly, as we better understand the connection between use of technology and teen mental health, it is critical to know when it may be time to reach out for professional help.

Here are checklists for symptoms of teen anxiety and depression:

If you are a teen or you have a teen who is struggling with feelings of anxiety or depression, contact me – let’s see if we can work together to understand what’s happening and how psychotherapy can help.

JoAnn Fitzpatrick, MA

Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist

Additional Resources

iGen: The Smartphone Generation | Jean Twenge | TEDxLagunaBlancaSchool

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