If you knew that a sniper had been plucking off children, teens, and college-aged students one by one in our nation, would you be alarmed? Of course, you would. You would want to know where and why so you could protect your own kiddos.
Well, what if you discovered that the killer was targeting any child under the age of twenty-five who wore purple? You’d probably burn every thread of fiber of that color the very day you discovered it to be sure your child was not found among the statistics. Furthermore, you’d tell everyone you know and love so they could clear out their closets as well.
What I’m about to tell you is, I believe, something just as bizarre and I beg you to listen. For nearly 15 years we have witnessed hockey stick growth in anxiety and depression among children. The average child aged 9-17 scores as high on anxiety scales as those admitted for in-patient psychiatric treatment in the 1950s. Though it's now considered "normal", suicide has become the second leading cause of death for 15-29-year-olds, with 30% of girls struggling with suicidal ideation. Between 2005 and 2019, the number of teen girls considering suicide increased by 60% from one decade ago.
Students are hanging out with one another less and less, as loneliness grows.
The sharp upturns and downward trends cry out for attention.
That’s simply not how generations chart behavioral changes. Sociologist Jean M. Twenge wrote this for The Atlantic a few years ago:
I’ve been researching generational differences for 25 years, starting when I was a 22-year-old doctoral student in psychology. Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so. Millennials, for instance, are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys. Then I began studying [Generation Z born 1995-2012] 5 .
These cliffs and climbs associated with Generation Z and Millennials are uncommon. So, what’s responsible? No single factor can bear the full weight, but two seem to correlate more tightly than the others: the invention of the smartphone and the advent of social media. Individuals who spend more time on social media—from age 10-25—seem to be at a higher risk for depressive symptoms and suicide-related outcomes.
Twenge and a colleague found that teens who spend the most time on electronic devices—seven-plus hours a day—were two times more likely to be diagnosed with depression versus people who used them one hour per day.
An increasing body of evidence suggests that the time we spend on our smartphones is interfering with our sleep, relationships, memory, attention spans, creativity, productivity, and decision-making abilities. By chronically raising cortisol levels, our phones are threatening our mental health and shortening our lives. Spikes in this stress hormone also spikes blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar enabling us to react to perceived threats.
Essentially, our phones are keeping us at a low level of fight-or-flight readiness. True Girl has collected an arsenal of weaponry to help mothers gain understanding, access resources, and petition heaven to help them reduce the risk in their own homes and in the entire generation at risk. But let’s start by considering how our own behavior reduces or creates risk in our children. This reflection begs two questions of us as individuals and mothers.
TWO CORE QUESTIONS
TO DRIVE OUR SOCIAL MEDIA USE:
1. As individuals, how are we paying attention to our own spiritual and emotional health so that we remain strong, healthy servants in God’s Kingdom?
2. As mothers who know the risk emotionally and spiritually, how are we setting examples for our children to legitimately consider question #1?
Several months ago, I became aware of the growing threat to our children and grandchildren. My heart was so heavy, but I knew that if I sounded an alarm and told you to your kids needed to “stop wearing purple” that you would probably not be as concerned as you needed to be. After all, we could not imagine limiting our own use of “purple.” (If you haven’t figured it out “wearing purple” is code for “using social media.”)
Please understand, I do not think that our smartphones are evil or that social media is to be banished. But the way we use them needs to be better managed. The stakes are too high.