How Teen Mental Health Is Trending
The past year has been a taxing one. For many teenagers this has involved a disruption in their education, a personal experience of sickness or loss, and the inability to spend time doing things teens are known for like playing sports, going to parties, making music, going to the mall or getting outside. One educator we work with reflected back on the things that he remembered most about high school and realized that none of those opportunities were currently available to most teens saying "COVID has stolen their youth". Even before the pandemic, today’s teenagers faced different challenges than previous generations.
But are today’s teenagers really that different from past generations? In some ways, they are actually better-behaved. The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey by the CDC finds in many areas, teens aren’t pushing to grow up quickly in the way of previous generations. Kliff, Oh, and Frostenson explain less American teens drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or get into physical fights(Kliff, Oh & Frostenson, 2016). From 1991, the percentage of teens who have seriously considered suicide has also gone down from 29% to 17.7% in 2015 (Kliff, Oh & Frostenson, 2016).
Does this mean that teen’s mental health is overall trending well? While teens may be participating in less risky behaviour, this doesn’t mean there is no cause for concern over their mental health. According to the World Health Organization, mental health conditions, while not always diagnosed, affect 10-20% of adolescents globally (WHO, 2020). In addition, half of adult mental health conditions are started during one’s mid-teens (WHO, 2020). This means the teenage years can be a time when many are dealing with mental health conditions for the first time, and how they are supported can be of great impact. Kori D. Miller explains according to positive psychology researchers, teenagers benefit from being assisted in cultivating positive emotions in these situations where they are struggling with their mental health (Miller, 2020).
One often discussed area is how technology and social media affect teen’s mental health. Teens have the capabilities to connect in ways which have never previously been available. Miller analyses social media’s effects on teen’s mental health, culminating research findings that Facebook negatively affects well-being and has been used as a way to compare themselves physically to others and their past self (Miller, 2020 ;Kross et al, 2013;Center for Eating Disoorders at Sheppard Pratt, 2012).
But, while social media can come with challenges to mental health, it can alsso bring benefits. A research team at Connected Learning Lab finds Black and trans youth can use find online sources of empowerment helpful for dealing with racism and prejudice (Connected Learning Lab, 2020). Also, social networks can provide connection and new friendships (Connected Learning Lab, 2020). Some tech platforms such as Minecraft are even working to further well-being through game based learning (Minecraft, 2021).
Technological advances can affect teens both for the better or the worse. It’s important then, that those in positions to support teens look at how to best foster social media use in the best ways. Connected learning labs research finds other causes of stress from social marginalization to poverty can have a larger negative effect on mental health than social media, so it is important to consider a wider array of factors that can contribute to a teen’s mental health (Connected Learning Lab, 2020).