Claire Hailwood is concerned but not discouraged by some stats on teens mental health and argues that we must model a better way
The adage goes that ‘you can make statistics say anything you want’ so when a headline pops up from the latest bit of research, I acknowledge that this might not be something to be taken at face value.
But when this headline appeared, it more than piqued my interest – ‘Number of teenagers who ‘don’t enjoy life’ has doubled with social media’. The article went on to hail this era as ‘the new great depression’, and as someone raising children and who cares (and believes in) deeply for this generation, there were some worrying things highlighted.
Nearly ½ teens agree with the statement ‘I can’t do anything right’, ‘I don’t enjoy life’, ‘my life is not useful’ – these results are apparently twice what they were a decade ago as, the article claims, smart phones have rapidly become commonplace.
The research demonstrates a sharp change in the last 10-12 years and the ‘only’ thing significantly differently in this period is the arrival of the smart phone with teenagers spending up to nine hours a day on their screens.
Alongside this, the number of teenagers passing their driving test, going on dates and getting jobs has declined too.
The article is US based; similar observations are noted in the UK too.
There is no doubt that the world is changing. There can be no doubt that the impact of social media has been significant and that some of that is negative.
Adolescent brains are still developing until the age of 25, so the impact of this long term is probably even more complex (and potentially challenging) than even what we realise now. What is the full extent of the impact on the developing brain, on its ability to function, learn and grow with the breadth that it could, of some of the technological developments of the last decade? We don’t fully know yet.
Truthfully, as someone raising teenagers and children, it’s frightening. It feels overwhelming and like an unstoppable force coming at our children (and us) that we are powerless to prevent. So we succumb. I get it.
But it isn’t inevitable. We can, and I would say, should live differently.
We can, and should ask God for great wisdom on when, how and where the boundaries should be, and for His strength as we hold lines (and for His grace when we get it wrong).
Don’t be fearful
Or sometimes the pendulum swings too far the other way. It’s so easy to be swept up in fear and for that to become the foundation for our response, so we overact. There have been moments as I raise daughters where I have considered my only option is to build a Rapunzel-esque tower to home them in. That’s what my fear makes me want to do, but I recognise that’s not a proportional or helpful response.
Our job as parents and carers is to set loving, consistent boundaries. Romans 12 reminds us not to be conformed by the patterns of the world, not because God is a killjoy but because He invites us to be transformed instead by Him, His word and ways.
Sometimes this leads to well received, thoughtful conversations with my teenagers and children and I feel like we’re doing OK.
More often, despite my best efforts to explain well and love well, this is met with angry resistance and drama.
That’s OK. That’s normal. My job is to navigate through those moments not to try and avoid them by giving them what they think they want or need for a short-term hit.
Equally, it’s important to say that not all social media is awful.
Value what’s good
There is SO much joy, creativity and encouragement to be found. I’ve eaten better because fo things my daughters have found on TikTok, I do make-up better because of tutorials, laughed harder at ridiculous videos that have built a stronger connection with my children, and been amazed at the skills of young content creators. My children have developed in their interests and hobbies because of what they’ve learned from social media.
I want to encourage more of that inspiration. Part of boundary setting is ‘no’ but a great bit of it is to say ‘YES’ to other things.
Here’s three things I’m practising.
1. Don’t be afraid
It’s easy to say but harder to do. Jesus models to us how to do this, by leaning into Him and His presence. Choose trust over fear.
For wisdom, for our young people and their friends, for stronger relationships, for courage and peace, for all and anything that you need as you parent – it’s not for the faint hearted, but His presence and power is greater. Ephesians tells us that God can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. How? By His power at work IN us. We get to tap into heavenly power when we pray and yet so often, I forget.
3. Model something different
If your children and teenagers used screens as you did, watched what you did and engaged in the way you did, would that be OK? What we do is as important as we say. Let’s model lives that are free from the addiction to things that are unhealthy on our screens and model a pursuit of other things as well that bring joy and life.