Our teens are in trouble.
Mental health issues are skyrocketing, including attempted suicides.
More and more high school and college students are seeking counseling for anxiety, depression, and mood disorders.
A recently-published study suggests that it all started in 2011. 
Prior to that year, our teens were doing just as well as you’d expected. Sure, some struggled with depression and mental health. But rates had remained stable for decades.
That all changed in 2011. Mental health issues began to rise, particularly for girls.
Something must have happened.
Was it the recession? Increased pressure to succeed in school? Substance abuse or obesity?
The study’s authors think it was something else:
The Hidden Danger of Smartphones
The first smartphone was introduced in 2007. Within 5 years, half of America’s teenagers had one.
I had a front-row seat to the impact of smartphones on teens. My teenage stepdaughter, like generations of teens before her, spent half her life in her bedroom with the door shut.
She did what teens have always done: listened to music, watched movies, applied makeup, and chatted with her friends.
Only one difference:
Instead of picking up the phone to call a friend, she was chatting with her friends via social media and text.
That, according to the study’s authors, was the problem.
Social media appears to have an overall negative impact on teens. Several studies have found that the more participants used Facebook, the worse they felt.
But you can’t get teens off social media.
Back in my day, you weren’t cool if you didn’t watch MTV. Today, you’re not cool unless you’re posting sexy selfies on social media.
Racking up the likes and comments provides social proof, as well as a hit of the feel-good brain chemical dopamine, associated with addictive behavior.
If you’re not on social media, you might as well not exist.
Why Offline Interaction Rules
This generation of teens, nicknamed iGen, socializes less in person than previous generations, including Millennials.
Not seeing their friends face-to-face has major mental health costs. That’s because socializing in person boosts mood and psychological wellbeing.
When teens hang out together, whether it’s on the playground or in someone’s bedroom, they feel a greater sense of emotional closeness than they do when they’re hunched over a screen texting their best friend.
There’s some evidence that social media can even increase feelings of loneliness. I’m not surprised. Looking at pictures of parties you weren’t invited to, vacations you can’t afford, and couples who’re madly in love reinforces your own isolation.
When you want to belong so, so desperately—but you’re surrounded by reminders that you don’t belong—your risk of mental health issues goes up.
Add that to the feeling that you’re a burden on others, and you may begin to wonder what the world would be like if you weren’t in it.
Helping Teens Bounce Back
So what can we do as parents?
1. Put Down the Phone
First, we can model healthy socializing ourselves.
The more time we spend glued to our phones or laptops, the harder it will be to convince our children to set the phone down.
Children do what we do, not what we say.
So put the phone down. Invite friends over. Read a book. Play a board game. Let your children see that you’d rather hang out with them than catch up on your emails.
2. Fill Your House with Friends
Second, we can provide ample socializing opportunities for our children.
This may mean driving your kids around town for playdates or allowing hordes of sullen teenagers into your house, but it’s worth it.
3. Set Rules
Third, we can do what Steve Jobs did. Limit screentime.
You’d think that the guru behind the iMac, iPhone, and iPad would have raised his children in a wonderland of high-tech devices.
He limited screentime at home and made sure dinners were spent talking to each other, rather than staring at the TV.
Many parents are implementing a “no screentime during the week” policy, especially for children under the age of 10, who are most vulnerable.
Others have a policy of “no screens in the bedroom.” This not only ensures that teens don’t stay up late Snapchatting with their friends. It also means that, as long as teens are using their devices in the family room, they’re still getting some face-to-face interaction.
Today, parents have an even greater burden than before to make sure their children grow up healthy and happy.
Not only do you need to watch what they eat and how much they exercise and whether they brush their teeth, but you also have to watch what’s going into their minds.
Smartphones are here to stay. But mental health issues don’t have to be.
Let’s join the campaign to raise awareness about this issue. Please share this article with friends or family members. Talk about your child’s smartphone use. Let us know what you’ve done to limit screentime in the comments.
Together, we can help our children feel connected, safe, and loved.