Smartphones and Teen Suicides

This post is based on an article written by Jean Twenge titled “As smartphones spread among teens, so did suicide,” in the Health Section of the 21 November 2017 issue of the Washington Post. The article summarizes the research she and her colleagues published in Clinical Psychological Science. The research found that the generation of teens called “iGen”, those born after 1995, is much more likely to experience mental-health issues than their millennial predecessors. Increases in depression, suicide attempts and suicide appeared among teens from every background: more privileged and less privileged, across all races and ethnicities, and in every region of the country.

According to the Pew Research Center, smartphone ownership crossed the 50% threshold in late 2012, right when teen depression and suicide began to increase. By 2015, 73% of teens had access to a smartphone. The research found the teens who spent five or more hours a day online were 71% more likely than those who spent only one hour a day to have at least one suicide risk factor (depression, thinking about suicide, making a suicide plan or attempting suicide). Suicide risk factors rose significantly after two or more hours a day of time online.

Two studies followed how people spend time. Both studies found that spending more time on social media led to unhappiness, while unhappiness did not lead to more study. An experiment randomly assigned participants to give up Facebook for week, vs. continuing their usual use. The group that avoided Facebook reported feeling less depressed at the end of the week.

The finding is that iGen folks spend much less time interacting with their friends in person. Interacting with people face to face is one of the deepest sources of human happiness. Teens who spent more time on average online and less time than average with friends in person were the most likely to be depressed. Since 2012 teens have spent less time on activities known to benefit mental health (in person social interaction) and more time on activities that may harm it (time online).

Teens are also sleeping less, and teens who spend more time on their phones are more likely than others to not get enough sleep. Insufficient sleep is a major risk factor for depression. So if smartphones are causing less sleep, that alone could explain why depression and suicide increased so suddenly.

Clearly restricting screen time, to two hours a day or less, is needed.
Twenge is professor of psychology at San Diego State University.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: