We’re in the middle of a teen mental health crisis – and girls are at its epicenter.
Since 2010, depression, self-harm and suicide rates have increased among teen boys. But rates of major depression among teen girls in the U.S. increased even more – from 12% in 2011 to 20% in 2017. In 2015, three times as many 10- to 14-year-old girls were admitted to the emergency room after deliberately harming themselves than in 2010. Meanwhile, the suicide rate for adolescent girls has doubled since 2007.
Rates of depression started to tick up just as smartphones became popular, so digital media could be playing a role. The generation of teens born after 1995 – known as iGen or Gen Z – were the first to spend their entire adolescence in the age of the smartphone. They’re also the first group of teens to experience social media as an indispensable part of social life.
Of course, both boys and girls started using smartphones around the same time. So why are girls experiencing more mental health issues?
Mining three surveys of more than 200,000 teens in the U.S. and U.K., my colleagues and I were able to find some answers.
The screens we use
We found that teen boys and girls spend their digital media time in different ways: Boys spend more time gaming, while girls spend more time on their smartphones, texting and using social media.
Gaming involves different forms of communication. Gamers often interact with each other in real time, talking to each other via their headsets.
In contrast, social media often involves messaging via images or text. Yet even something as simple as a brief pause before receiving a response can elicit anxiety.