As is our tradition every spring, Voxitatis is extremely pleased to congratulate the graduating class of 2023.
In our way of describing each class with a modifier as an adjective, we use the term “social media” to describe graduates this spring, most of whom were born in 2005 or 2006, the dawn of prominent social media sites like Facebook. In 2008, when this year’s graduates were 2 or 3 years old, Facebook surpassed Myspace as the most-visited social media website. With the introduction of Live Feed, the company also encroached on Twitter’s growing popularity.
Graduates may hang out with friends in popular spaces, but their eyes are often glued to their smartphones, mostly on social media. News reports suggest that the popularity of Facebook among teens isn’t what it used to be, having been overtaken by TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat. Still, there’s no denying that Facebook started the rise of social media.
Along with the omnipresence of social media in this year’s graduates’ lives, an increase in the prevalence of depression and other mental health disorders among teenagers, especially teenage girls, has been observed, reports Rosalind Crockett in the student newspaper at Somerset Academy Canyons in Boynton Beach, Florida.
“Social media not only gives young people a window through which to see wasted opportunities, but it also casts a false light on appearances and reality,” Rosalind wrote. “A time when young bodies are changing increases the likelihood of viewing unrealistic, filtered photographs on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Teenagers once read magazines that featured model images that had been edited. These pictures are now always just a thumb scroll away. It’s simple to find and simple to use apps that provide the user with airbrushing, teeth whitening, and additional filters. Everyone has a flawless appearance; it’s not just celebs.”
A report from Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general of the US, issued a warning that social media use is a leading contributor to depression, anxiety, and other problems in the nation’s teenagers. Following up on the story, NBC News asked some experts last week what can be done to help.
“Teen depression started to rise around 2012, a time that coincides with the popularity of smartphones,” the network quoted Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of Generations: The Real Differences between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers, and Silents—and What They Mean for America’s Future, as saying. And depression continues to rise, partly spurred by social media algorithms designed to keep people online longer.
The “likes” or “reshare” count, quite simply, which artificially supports or, just as easily, crushes any narcissistic tendencies teens may already have, can make them miserable. Maybe their depression is justified—or at least logical—given the state of the world: war in Ukraine, inflation, poverty, climate change, school shootings, political strife, and so on, writes Ross Douthat in a New York Times op-ed. Fellow columnist Michelle Goldberg suggests it’s not that simple, though.
Whatever the root cause, it can be difficult for parents, teachers, and other adults to recognize the difference between normal teenage angst and depression. According to HelpGuide.org, an independent nonprofit that runs a mental health site, indicators of possible depression in teens include
- a persistent negative mood
- problems at school
- a loss of interest in activities
- low self-esteem
- smartphone addiction
- drug and alcohol use
- reckless behavior
- changes in sleep or diet
If you or a teen you know may be suffering from depression and need help in the US, find chapters and support groups associated with the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) or call the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline for support and referrals at 1-800-950-6264. For help with suicide prevention, call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.