Burke Baldwin offers group therapy to Muir Wood Teens

Social Media & Gaming

America’s youth is anxious and depressed. In 2017, 31 percent of high school students reported they felt sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row. The current generation of Americans born after 1995 is “at the forefront of the worst mental health crisis in decades, with rates of teen depression and suicide skyrocketing since 2011,” warned psychology professor Jean Twenge in her 2017 book iGen. 

Social media and online gaming are important drivers of this crisis. iGen teenagers—also known as “Generation Z”—have been immersed in social networking sites almost their entire lives. “They grew up with cell phones, had an Instagram page before they started high school, and do not remember a time before the Internet,” wrote Twenge who fears that excessive social media use will continue to have a severe impact on the mental health of young people. 

“The complete dominance of the smartphone among teens has had ripple effects across every area of iGen’ers’ lives, from their social interactions to their mental health…. The average teen checks her phone more than eighty times a day.” 

Excessive social media use can inflame anxiety among those who are susceptible, and those who constantly crave likes from their peers are often those who are the most vulnerable to mental health issues. New research from Michigan State University also shows a connection between social media use and impaired risky decision-making, which is commonly deficient in substance misuse.

Another screen-based activity involving addiction risks is online gaming. Teens, in particular, seem to be susceptible to this danger. Excessive gaming engages the same brain circuits as addictive substances and thus teaches very young minds to seek dopamine rushes repeatedly. At the same time, the lack of face-to-face human interaction can reinforce negative moods, ultimately causing depression and substance use disorders. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) designated “gaming disorder” as a disease for the first time in June 2019.  According to the WHO, “gaming disorder is defined … as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”