You will find many a facile explanation accompanying reports of these findings. Time magazine, for example, fingered social media. “It’s hard for many adults to understand how much of teenagers’ emotional life is lived within the small screens on their phones.” An Ohio State therapist who spoke to The Wall Street Journal cited “the economy, the rising cost of tuition, the impact of social media and a so-called helicopter-parenting style that doesn’t allow adolescents to experience failure.”
There is no doubt that social media brings out the savage in human nature, and surely “helicopter” parents should permit their kids to grow up, but these explanations strike me as wide of the mark.
The most consequential social change of the past several decades is not the dawn of social media but changing family structure, and it turns out that adolescent depression and suicide are closely linked with divorce and single parenting. Teens who live with a single parent have twice the rate of suicide attempts as those who live with both parents. To understand why kids are so anxious and depressed, we should look not just to their phones but to their homes.
Single parents can try to compensate. Even if teenagers are living in a single-parent home, the quality of their relationships with their parents remains critically important to their risk of depression. Adolescents whose mothers were warm and supportive during disagreements, rather than angry or argumentative, showed lower rates of sadness, anxiety and lack of self-control.
Someone coined the term “fragile families” to describe the social experiment we’ve been undergoing for the past several decades. The suspicion that it has led to fragile psyches is strong.
Writes for Creators Syndicate.