Are smartphones and social media increasing loneliness in teens? Most likely YES! Are lonely teens often depressed? Definitely.
In a well-researched and well-linked opinion piece from NYT, Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist from NYU Stern School of Business (who I had the pleasure to hear at an NAIS conference a while back) and Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, make an excellent case of the correlation between the rise of smartphones and social media and teen angst.
The research answers the question Do kids (particularly girls) who consume a lot of social media have worse health outcomes than teens who consume tittle? YES. However, research falls short in understanding the impact of social media and smartphones on groups. What happens when 30 students wait for a class to start, and do not interact with each other because each one is on their phone? What happens when a family is together, but each person is checking their devices? The lack of social interaction is most likely impacting our young people. After all, social skills, like all skills, require practice.
The authors recommend banning phones in schools and delaying entry into social media platforms until after middle school. Both things are easier said than done. My friend, who is the assistant head of a large Morristown private school and sat with me at the conference listening to Dr. Haidt, said taking phones away in his school would create mutiny. After 7 years heading a middle school, I can attest that 100% of my students were in social media platforms, most of them by lying about their age.
Still, we should try. I highly recommend Common Sense Media as a site that offers good parental advice on how to navigate media with young people (click on "Parents Need to Know"). I also recommend that phones are put away during dinner and family outings. Parents' phones too, of course. Finally never allow phones or devices in the bedroom at night. They will most likely be used and disrupt sleep.