Your Voice

Your Voice

How social media hurt teenagers’ mental health

By Chris Martin 
Author, “Terms of Service”

Hallways and lunchrooms were the primary stages for social engagement in high school in years past. It was that time in between classes or while eating lunch that the social dynamics were most active.

High school hallways and lunchrooms are like little stages on which teenagers craft their personas and identities among their peers. It’s exciting and stressful, just like performing on any stage.

No escape

In the 20th century, teenagers left the social stages when they went home. Unless they had plans to attend a social function in the evening or hit up the mall, the social dynamics of high school were left for phone calls with trusted friends until the next school day.

Today, as Derek Thompson says in his book “Hit Makers,” teenagers are always in the high school hallways. There is no escaping the social stages on which teenagers perform because instead of walking the runway of the high school hallways for a couple of hours a day, five days a week, teenagers have their personal stages in their pockets, calling them to perform every hour of every day with no opportunity to retreat to a social backstage for rest from their ever-present performance.

If you remember the social stressors of the high school hallways and lunchrooms, you can empathize with the feelings today’s teens have as they carry those performance arenas around in their pockets all the time. Is there any wonder then why teenagers are more anxious and depressed than before?

Mountains of data have been collected in the last few years that point to a clear relationship between increased social media use and increased experiences of anxiety and depression.

Authors Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff cite one particularly troubling study in their book “The Coddling of the American Mind.”

Research shows that in the early 2000s, just more than 1 in 10 girls aged 12–17 had a major depressive episode in the previous year. By 2016, nearly 1 in 5 girls aged 12–17 had a major depressive episode in the previous year. The rate of major depressive episodes among adolescent girls nearly doubled in less than a decade.

Haidt and Lukianoff note that adolescent boys also experienced an increase in depressive episodes, but not as dramatic as that of girls.

Root of anxiety

Girls are more likely to become anxious or depressed because of increased social media use than boys because the root of anxiety and depression in girls tends to lie more in social dynamics than it does for boys. Whereas boys often deal with social conflict through direct, physical confrontation, girls are more likely to deal with social conflict in ways exacerbated by social media, which is one explanation for their increased anxiety and depression.

We find ourselves in a spot in which we feel we have to live our lives and create a documentary of our lives at the same time. We hover behind ourselves and watch ourselves live our lives while living our lives. Is it any wonder mental health crises are on the rise? Another unfortunate reality is that this is not limited to teenagers.

Data shows social media use is adversely affecting adult mental health, too. Sure, it’s safe to say that adults may feel less peer pressure to be as active on social media as teens are, but we’re all performing in the same way. Constant performance brings constant pressure. Constant pressure brings the gnawing anxiety that you’re going to fail in the spotlight at some point. How long can you really perform before you need to take a break? What if you feel like you can never log off and take a break?

Navigating the current technology and social media landscape as a parent, let alone as a Christian parent, is daunting.

On one hand, banning all social media activity can unintentionally ostracize your child from his or her peers. On the other hand, the evidence shows that social media can easily hurt young people.

Lean on God

In the face of the fear and difficulty that comes with parenting amid such tension, we parents must run to the Scriptures and cling to our God, who says in Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

God is with us as we love our children and do all we can to lead them in the ways they should go. We must lean on Him for our strength and our hope.

EDITOR’S NOTE — Chris Martin is a content marketing editor at Moody Publishers and a social media, marketing and communications consultant. His book “Terms of Service” was published this year by B&H Publishing.

I really enjoy doing the Christian Crossword. Some clues I know, but I still look up the Scriptures and read them. Sometimes a particular Scripture speaks to me for that day.

Patricia Nance
Gadsden, Ala.

There’s more I want to practice and more I want to learn. … I don’t want to stop learning just because I’m done with school. I think it’s important to be at least somewhat well-rounded in a few things, continuing to learn and improve in a variety of skills or subjects. … I’d like to take some of my time to learn and practice other things.

Hannah Muñoz
“Never stop growing, learning”

“I have always been convicted that you just don’t preach or minister to the folks who come to church — you’ve got to go where the people are. It’s not always clean, and it’s not always where it’s a comfortable place to be,” said Mike Whitt, pastor of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Ozark and jail ministry coordinator for Dale Baptist Association.

“That ministry of presence is so powerful, just to be able to sit with somebody in their grief as their homes are being attacked and their loved ones are being captured or killed. And just to be with people, cry with them and hurt with them — they were so grateful, so encouraged by that,” said John Stone, associate pastor of Willowbrook Church in Huntsville, on the church’s missions efforts in Ukraine.

“I knew I loved online community, and I had seen it work before. I thought I’d find five people who hate papyrus font as much as I do,” said Katie Allred, founder of the Facebook group Church Communications and the author of  “Church Communications: Methods and Marketing.”

Telling your testimony can encourage someone and even change the course of their life. Focus on the redemptive power of the gospel and magnify Christ. He’s the reason you have a story to share.

Dana Watson
via Facebook

“There are a lot of people who are out there hurting, and I need to bring joy, smiles and laughter,” said Bill King, songwriter, musician and storyteller.

“A joyful heart makes a face cheerful, but a sad heart produces a broken spirit.” Proverbs 15:13

Kind words make impact

I have served in 4-year-old preschool Sunday School since 2012. … I have learned a lot and have gained a lot from the experience, including many sweet and funny stories.

But no Sunday was as memorable as one when I was a substitute director for the class and learned a lesson I never forgot.

A brother and sister from out of town were visiting family and attended Sunday School. I didn’t know who they were. I don’t remember their names and didn’t see them after that.

The problem was, the kids were not happy to be there.

The brother especially took offense at being left in this room. He said no to every invitation to participate — as if on principle. Not just initially but over the entirety of the class time, he said no. His sister was potentially more amenable to joining in, but her brother was saying no, and you could almost see her making a choice about what to do. Ultimately, she chose Team Brother, and she also said no to every invitation to participate. …

When their relative came back for the children, she was smiling in an optimistic, hopeful way and asked, “Did you have a good time?” This is why that whole day matters.

It was my desire in that moment to speak words of affirmation to the relative and to do so in front of the children. But I couldn’t lie, or they’d know it. So I said these very specific words instead: “We are so glad they came.”

When the little boy heard me, he dropped his offense and rushed to hug me tight. When he was done, the little girl did the same — she dropped her offense and rushed to hug me tight as well.

I’ve always remembered that moment. … It reminds me that you never know how things will go.

Minnie Lamberth

From the Twitterverse


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