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Teenagers, Technology, & Mental Health


Forensic Scholars Today


Technology is deeply integrated into our lives through work or personal entertainment. Technology is constantly changing, and its existence will only grow in the future. The increased usage of technology changes an adolescent’s view of what is real life. Adolescents compare themselves to others online, leading to peer envy and depression. The constant use of digit media leads to sleep problems, which also contributes to mental health issues. Technology created the new problem of cyberbullying, which causes depression, self-harm, and suicide.


Mental health patterns studied since the early 2010s show the use of digital media with adolescents rising along with rising rates of depression, loneliness, self-harm, suicide, and unhappiness, especially in girls and young women. Digital media includes social media, online gaming, texting, and streaming videos. Light users of digital media are those who use it for about an hour a day. Heavy digital media users take away more of the time they normally would have spent in in-person interactions, which is linked to happiness, and spend it online. The phrase “Facebook depression” is being used to describe adolescents who develop depressive symptoms after spending a large amount of time on social media (Brannick et al., 2019). Even if there is an in-person social interaction, a device is likely to be present. This lessens the enjoyment of time together or if an individual is constantly looking at their device, creates negative emotions from those they are interacting with (Twenge, 2020). This displacement of time not only interferes with in-person activities, but also affects homework and employment. It may increase feelings of social isolation or depression (George et al., 2018).


Users of Facebook and Instagram have reported symptoms of depression. A high usage on Facebook can lead to lower self-esteem (Costin et al., 2011; Hunt et al. 2018) and greater loneliness (Allen et al., 2014; Hunt et al. 2018). When there is a high usage on Instagram, it can lead to body image issues (Slater & Tiggemann, 2013; Hunt et al. 2018). Social media usage leads to life comparisons and peer envy. When users upwardly compare their lives to others on social media, is leads to depression. Social media is always available and the constant comparisons make adolescents feel like their own lives are lacking and that others have better lives than they do (Algoe, 2018; Twenge, 2019). When a vulnerable adolescent with low self-esteem is online, receiving negative feedback or negative comparisons exacerbates depression (Eggermont & Frison, 2016; Koutamanis et al., 2017; Booker et al., 2018). Adolescents may have multiple accounts on multiple platforms. It leads them having to keep up with numerous accounts, which increases their anxiety (Grealish et al., 2020).


Sleep is compromised with the increased use of digital media. It increases sleep latency and quality of sleep. The blue light emitted from devices suppresses melatonin production (Twenge, 2020). With devices being portable, they are often taken into the bedroom and held closer than a TV would be, emitting the blue light (Twenge, 2019). Sleep-wake disorders are classified as the bidirectional and interactive effects between sleep disorders and coexisting medical and psychiatric illnesses. An example is insomnia now classified as comorbid with a mental health diagnosis (Scott & Woods, 2019; American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Technology may have an impact on not only sleep duration and quality of sleep but increases cognitive arousal at bedtime. Poor sleep quality is a known risk factor for mental health issues, especially depression (Twenge, 2020).


The internet took the time an adolescent would use in beneficial face-to-face socializing and this damages their well being. Lonely people may feel social on these social media sites by looking and reading about others, but they are not interactive. Quality intimate relationships are critical for well-being (Algoe, 2018). Girls tend to spend more time in friendship dyads, focus on social interactions, and popularity (Twenge, 2020). Changes in decreasing social interaction and emotional closeness, especially with girls, are relevant as a risk of suicide (Joiner et al., 2018). The interpersonal theory of suicide proposes contemplating suicide comes from a lack of feeling someone belongs (lack of social interaction and loneliness) and feeling like they are a burden on others. With the iGen population, those born since 1995, spending more time on digital media, their rates of loneliness and mental illness increase (Joiner et al., 2018). It is thought that individuals with depression use Facebook more to help regulate their mood online. Users try to compensate for low self-esteem and poor face-to-face communication skills through Facebook. Users of Facebook try to escape their real-life problems, but it increases their depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation (Gini et al., 2018). Having immediate access to information online provides information about self-harm and suicide techniques. Adolescents on digital media may encourage others to self-harm and make it look popular (Twenge, 2020).


With the use of digital media, adolescents experience cyberbullying and are exposed to this type of bullying for longer hours. Cyberbullying is a risk factor for suicidal ideation and attempts (Twenge, 2020). Users feel anonymity online and it may lead to more aggressive and uncivil behavior than would happen in-person. Suicidal ideation has been linked to bullying, along with depression, decreased self-worth, hopelessness, and loneliness (Hinduja & Patchin, 2018a). The term “cyberbullicide” is where suicide is indirectly or directly influenced by experiences with online harassment. Cyberbullying can lead to maladaptive emotional, psychological, and physical problems. These include, but are not limited to, anger, self-pity, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and chronic illness (Hinduja & Patchin, 2018b).


It would be impossible to stop teenagers from accessing digital media, but changes in their time spent on these platforms would be beneficial for their well-being. There are constantly new social media platforms being created. The features on new platforms try to top those already popular and highly used by adolescents. It puts a teenagers well-being at risk to constantly compare their life to others. The constant need to be on digital media creates issues with sleep that impacts their mental health. Cyberbullying and suicide are major concerns. The most advantageous actions would be to lessen time on social media and return to in-person contact and activities.




Joy L. Ho is a student in the human services graduate program with an emphasis in behavioral health at Concordia University, St. Paul. Joy has a B.A. in Management Information Systems from Luther College and has 18 years of experience working at large corporations in technology, software, and management.


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