Does social media plays a part in our teens depression? Based on statistics, 75% of teenagers own a cell phone and they use it for texting or online social media networks. Their social interactions now mostly occur within the digital world and their social persona is defined in social media networks. Unfortunately, social media and texting has become an integral part of our children’s daily lives and they contribute to issues such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Most of the teenagers tend not to talk about depression. So parents must be aware of the signs of depression and how it might be caused to help their children fight it if they face it.
Signs and symptoms of depression in teens
Adults tend to seek out for solutions to their problems. But unlike adults, teens tend to rely on others for assistance. So it’s parents responsibility to be aware of signs of depression and ways to fight it. A teenager with depression doesn’t necessarily look sad. There are other symptoms as well:
- Sadness or hopelessness
- Irritability, anger, or hostility
- Tearfulness or frequent crying
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Loss of interest in activities they used to like
- Poor school performance
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Restlessness and agitation
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
- Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Thoughts of death or suicide
How Using Social Media Affects Teenagers
Texting and online communicating puts teenagers in a nonverbal disabled context, where body language, facial expression, and even the smallest kinds of vocal reactions are rendered invisible. And this is exactly where our kids miss out many critical social skills.
In a study, Facebook use was tied to depression, depending on how users used the site. In this study users who checked up on how their friends were doing and compared what they saw to their own lives, tended to produce feelings of depression. In addition, cyber-bullying is a recent phenomenon that puts children in emotional and social danger. Smartphones allow for constant unsupervised access to the internet and communities where youth can be exploited or defamed by fellow youth via text or post that can in turn cause depression.
Among youth, depression often comes with a lowered sense of self-esteem and self-efficacy. When youth base their identity on what others perceive, they develop a twisted version of their own worth, value, and capacity to be loved. This inaccurate view of self leaves teens vulnerable to things like Facebook envy and depression and cyber bullying.
Tips for communicating with a depressed teen
Focus on listening, not lecturing. Resist any urge to criticize or pass judgment once your teenager begins to talk. The important thing is that your child is communicating. You’ll do the most good by simply letting your teen know that you’re there for them, fully and unconditionally.
Be gentle but persistent. Don’t give up if they shut you out at first. Talking about depression can be very tough for teens. Even if they want to, they may have a hard time expressing what they’re feeling. Be respectful of your child’s comfort level while still emphasizing your concern and willingness to listen.
Acknowledge their feelings. Don’t try to talk your teen out of depression, even if their feelings or concerns appear silly or irrational to you. Well-meaning attempts to explain why “things aren’t that bad” will just come across as if you don’t take their emotions seriously. To make them feel understood and supported, simply acknowledging the pain and sadness they are experiencing can go a long way in making them feel understood and supported.
Trust your gut. If your teen claims nothing is wrong but has no explanation for what is causing the depressed behavior, you should trust your instincts. If your teen won’t open up to you, consider turning to a trusted third party: a school counselor, favorite teacher, or mental health professional. The important thing is to get them talking to someone.
Set limits on screen time. Teens often go online to escape their problems, but excessive computer use only increases their isolation, making them more depressed. When screen time goes up, physical activity and face time with friends goes down. Both are a recipe for worsening symptoms.
Social media is a powerful force in our culture. My work with teenagers has shown me that social media’s power is amplified when parents are not able to expend the in-person relational energy to balance the virtual relational allure of sites like Facebook. Finally, we need to understand that though there are risks associated with social media, the answer is not always to completely disconnect. Engaging with culture in a healthy, balanced way requires both creativity and wisdom.