Smartphones are causing teens to suffer from 'social stress'
Today's youth are facing poor mental health due to increased smartphone use. Source: Shutterstock

A startling number of adolescents are facing mental health problems around the world, and in many cases, it goes untreated until they head to college.

Alarming rates of youth suicide and self-harm have been reported globally, as well as the prevalence of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

A report by NBC Washington has highlighted a trend among today’s youth that could be a contributing factor to their poor mental health: social stress.

In today’s social media landscape, teenagers face severe pressure and anxiety when it comes to their social media presence and keeping up with the latest digital trends.

Born into the digital world, smartphones, iPads, computers and other personal digital gadgets have become such an important aspect of their lives, they often feel anxiety and fear when they find themselves without it.

As reported by NBC Washington, “In Illinois, Glenbrook High Schools District 225 experimented with limiting teens’ access to their grades on a digital portal. But for every student who said the grade book caused them anxiety, there was another who said losing regular access created even more stress…”

Emily Mogavero, a 17-year-old student in Buffalo, New York, said, “I definitely feel stress with online profiles, social media, to keep up, maintain my profiles and stuff. It kind of worries me that I’m on my phone so much.”

Mogavero said that sometimes she puts her phone away from her reach so she can’t hear her notifications.

Many adults in the working world can relate to these feelings of anxiety when their phone goes off repeatedly from the constant notifications – e-mails, texts, social media and messaging platforms demanding their time at all hours of the day.

But it is worrying that students as young as fifteen or sixteen are already facing this kind of anxiety. Along with the typical stressors faced by students such as exam anxiety, peer pressure and expectations for the future, it’s easy to see why so many are facing poor mental health.

According to NBC Washington, “Research now points to smartphone-driven social media as one of the biggest drivers of stress. After all, that’s where college acceptance letters fill Instagram, everyone knows where everyone else is going for spring break, and athletic failures and awkward social moments can live forever.”

Simply taking away their gadgets or limiting access to technology won’t work either, as some students feel even more anxious without them. Plus, technology use is becoming increasingly common for educational purposes, so getting teenagers to avoid them is difficult.

Schools and educators are beginning to see just how high students’ stress levels are rising, also looking into the effects on their mental health, and are taking steps to help them.

For example, Belfast Area High School in Maine staged an #unplugged event back in April this year – but unfortunately, less than 20 percent of students and staff took part.

In another move to address the stress caused by smartphone usage, Bexley City Schools in Ohio have announced that they will be banning students from bringing personal electronic devices into classrooms in the upcoming school year.

There are also other movements and awareness events that explore the right age for students to be using social media, such as ‘Away for the Day’ and ‘Wait until 8th’ which discourage the use of cellphones by middle school students.

Since the problem in the US is becoming so widespread, schools could look to implement the UK’s approach to the mental health issue: introducing a new subject called ‘Mindfulness’, announced in February 2019.

According to The Independent, “The mental health trial will run in the schools until 2021, and will involve pupils being taught muscle relaxation techniques, breathing exercises and mindfulness.”

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