Hunter Dixon spends several hours a day on her smartphone. “Right once I wake up, I’m on it and right before I go to bed.”
Like most teens, Dixon and her friends spend several hours a day on their smartphones, devices they are very attached to.
Students said they would feel lost without them.
“It sounds bad but if I’m without it for like 30 minutes, I feel like kind of lost. I feel like I’m missing out on stuff.” says Hannah Konkler.
That anxious feeling is typical of many young smartphone users.
Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University tells ABC News there’s a connection between negative trends in teen mental health and rising smartphone use. She says, “A big national screening study found a 50% increase in clinical level depression between 2011 and 2015. The suicide rate went up by quite a bit over that same time period. And that’s exactly when most people got smart phones and it kind of moved from being something only some people were doing, to something almost every teen was doing for 6 to 8 hours a day.”
Local therapist and founder of KP Counseling, Kevin Polky, says smartphones alone may not cause depression, but for someone in a dark place, they could trigger feelings of loneliness and sadness. Polky says, “Adolescence, as we know, is a vulnerable time, anyway. We’re just trying to figure out which way is north, right? And then, if we have a propensity toward anxiety or depression, I think it can amplify things.”
Polky is founder of Shatter Our Silence, or SOS, a group designed to increase awareness to factors surrounding suicide and mental illness in young adults.
He believes smartphones, which keep us always connected, can be a contributing factor. “That’s where the cyber bullying comes in, and does that play a part into it? Yes. Does that play a part, when I thought I could reach out to someone and they weren’t there? Or, now I know that I wasn’t invited to that party, and it was personal. Or, my translation of it was that it was personal. I think that could have been a tipping point for someone who is suicidal.”
But Polky says he hasn’t seen a direct cause-and-effect relationship between smartphones and depression, adding that social media can also be helpful to teens looking for answers.
The local girls we talked to feel they’re more connected to their friends because of their smartphones. But that can be problematic too.
Student Bella Kehrer says, “If you can’t go out that night and everybody else is posting about it, it’s like, ‘Oh I thought I was gonna be there.’ or something like that.”
“If you, like, post something and, like, some people like it and some people don’t like and somebody is saying, like, bad comments on somebody’s Instagram, you like feel bad for them.” says Dixon.
The devices have definitely changed the way teens communicate. The students all said they text message more than they talk. “Definitely. I never call people.” “The only people I call are my parents.” “It’s just easier to text people.” If they don’t answer then you call them.”
And for most, social media is their main source of news and information. “The other day, Snapchat broke down for two hours and everyone was freaking out. It was all over Twitter. Every tweet was Snapchat’s down. What am I going to do with my life now?” says Konkler.
All four girls we met with agree their phones are a distraction, especially when it comes to doing homework.
Polky says, if a student’s academic performance is suffering, or the teen is showing signs of depression, it may be time for parents to impose restrictions and limit their exposure. “I think there’s some dangers. Anytime we become way out of balance with something, I think there is where we run the risk of negative things happening in our culture.”