Sadness in American Teens has Increased Tremendously


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With the current rate of depression among teens increasing, there must be a solution. Teens might experience things that adults do not understand.

Carter Ramey, Section Editor

  Issues that arise within America  are usually widely talked about, but American teens are showing the emotion of sadness more than ever, and the real question is what is causing this? A study from 2009-2021 by the CDC shows that high school students feel persistent hopelessness and sadness rose from 26% to 44%. This study shows the highest percentage recorded ever in American teens. Almost every measure of mental health is getting worse, for every teenage demographic, and it is happening all across the country. Since 2009, sadness and hopelessness have increased for every race and gender in American teens.  This brings me to the question at hand: why are teens becoming more sad?

  There is not one clear answer to why teens are sad, there are potentially several answers to that question, along with one meta-explanation that ties them together. There are four factors that can be seen to worsen teen depression; social media use, stressful life circumstances, modern parenting styles, and decrease in extracurricular activities. For each of these reasons, there are explanations that show why there is an increase in depression.  

Social media Use

  In 2012, there was a study that showed that teen depression was steadily rising in developed countries. This is based on the observation that since then, smartphone and mobile social media has become more common. Social media itself does not cause depression, using social media excessively can be linked to depression. It is like anything done in excess; it can be harmful. This is very close to the conclusion reached by none other than Instagram. The company’s 2020 internal research found that while most users had a positive relationship with the app, one-third of teen girls said “Instagram made them feel worse,” even though these girls “feel unable to stop themselves” from logging on. And a company owned by Facebook, believes a big new study from Cambridge University, in which researchers looked at 84,000 people of all ages and found that social media was strongly associated with worse mental health during certain sensitive life periods, including for girls ages 11 to 13. 

 Why would social media affect teenage mental health in this way? One explanation is that teenagers (and teenage girls in particular) are uniquely sensitive to the judgment of friends, teachers, and the digital crowd. Social media seems to hijack this peer sensitivity and drive obsessive thinking about body image and popularity. The problem is  not just that social media fuels anxiety but also that—as we’ll see—it makes it harder for today’s young people to cope with the pressures of growing up.

The World is Stressful 

  The world nowadays is constantly having problems. After  having gone through a pandemic and now having war in Ukraine. This is a lot, and there is no way to see the effect it will have on children growing up during this time.       There is a sense of doom that does not  just come from teenagers. It comes from us, the news media, and from the social media channels through which our work is distributed. News sources have never been more abundant, or more accessible. But, journalism also has a famous bad-news bias, which flows from an unfortunate but accurate understanding that negativity generally gets more attention. When we plug our brain into a news feed, we are usually choosing to deluge ourselves with negative representations of reality. We cannot rule out the possibility that teens are sad about the world, not only because the world contains sadness, but also because young people have 24/7 access to sites that are constantly telling them they should be depressed about it.

Modern-day Parenting Styles 

  Researchers have noted a broad increase in an “accommodative” parenting style. If a girl is afraid of dogs, an “accommodation” would be keeping her away from every friend’s house with a dog. Likewise,  if a boy does not like to eat vegetables, feed him nothing but turkey loaf for four years. These behaviors come from love, but part of growing up is learning how to release negative emotions in the face of inevitable stress. If kids never figure out how to do that, they are  more likely to experience severe anxiety as teenagers.

  Another reason is that parents nowadays are spending more money to give their children the best education. Today’s children are less likely to drive, get a summer job, or be asked to do chores. The problem is not  that kids are lazy (homework time has risen), or that scrubbing dishes magically dispels anxiety disorders. Rather, these activities provide children with two very important things: tolerating discomfort and having a sense of personal competence.

Decrease in Extracurricular Activities 

  Today’s teens spend more than five hours daily on social media, and that habit seems to be displacing quite a lot of beneficial activity. The share of high-school students who got eight or more hours of sleep declined 30 percent from 2007 to 2019. Compared with their counterparts in the 2000s, today’s teens are less likely to go out with their friends, get their driver’s license, or play youth sports. The pandemic and the closure of schools likely exacerbated teen loneliness and sadness. A 2020 survey from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education found that loneliness spiked in the first year of the pandemic for everyone, but it rose most significantly for young people. With the increase in loneliness, it decreases the teen’s desire to participate in something surrounded with others. This is detrimental because socialization is one of the most important things to finding  success in the real world. 

  The world can be stressful, especially for teens. While these are a few explanations for the increase in teen depression, they are not the only contributing factors that can cause it.  As we continue to move forward, what are the steps to stop this trend of depression and how can it be stopped?