Smartphones, social media linked to a rise in teen loneliness

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INDIANAPOLIS — We spend so much of our lives staring at our phones and devices, often combing through social media.  

For many adults it may be a great way to pass the time, but a new study is now highlighting a connection between smartphone use and teen loneliness.  

The findings, published in the Journal of Adolescence, show that as smartphone use and time spent online increased, so did teen loneliness, particularly among girls. 

Researchers stop short of implying the increase in smartphone/social media use as a causation of teen loneliness, however, they do highlight a noticeable correlation. 

To add more context to the findings, CBS4 spoke with Dr. Tami Silverman, the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. Silverman said one big factor at play with the findings is what we commonly refer to as FOMO, or the fear of missing out.  Silverman says those feelings are something that can be a powerful force in kids, particularly as they move to form their own identities and forge new bonds. 

“Kids and adults don’t post pictures of the bad days on social media very often. They post the nice, joyful pictures, and it looks like they’re always surrounded by friends and if that’s not your reality, which it’s not for most kids, it looks like ‘everyone is at the party and I’m not’ and that can be really hard for a kid to understand and process,” Silverman said.

Silverman added that in Indiana, 10.2% of kids aged 3-17 have been diagnosed with anxiety problems. That’s about 2 percentage points higher than the national average of 8.5.

Data showed 3.7% of Hoosier kids have also been diagnosed with clinical depression. And in a given year, Silverman says just over 50% (50.8%) of Indiana kids ages 3-17 have sought or received treatment or counseling from a mental health professional.

Kids are already going through so much, so when it comes to the effects smartphones and social media can have on top of everything else, it becomes even more important for parents to check in and pay attention to their child’s social media habits. It may also be time for frank conversations about healthy habits. 

“Again, it’s not about those (social media) numbers, it’s about being respected, it’s about showing up as your authentic self, it’s about having those friends that truly value who you are and making sure that those are the circles that you’re in regardless of how big or how small those circles seem,” Silverman said.  

Silverman points out there is no “going back”–smartphones and social media will always be a part of our lives–so it’s important to have those check-ins and frank conversations regularly.

“And so it’s just paying attention to the needs of your kids, asking them questions, again telling them that you care about their physical and their mental well-being and that you’re constantly there to help them.”

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