Last week was the first day of school in our neighborhood. I love family paintings. Kids with new backpacks, moms and dads with cameras ready when the bus stops.

It’s surprising considering how likely a smiling child is to get anxious, depressed, or cut herself by the time she hits high school. 19% are seriously considering suicide. Not just to meditate. Between 2007 and 2018, he said, the suicide rate among young people aged 10 to her 24 increased by 57%.

As researched by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, the widespread adoption of smartphones in 2012 caused a sudden and dramatic shift in adolescent well-being. Children, especially girls, became more anxious, depressed and vulnerable.

Before COVID, many observers were affected as children and teens spent hours each day on their mobile phones. Gene Twenge of San Francisco State University analyzed survey results of national high school students dating back to 1976 and found that children are not socializing face-to-face as much as they used to. They are partying less, seeing friends in person less, and even dating less than children in previous decades.

Admittedly, there have been some undeniable benefits for teens to be alone: ​​Teenage pregnancy rates have declined over the past two decades, as has drug experimentation and alcohol abuse. However, the rate of unhappiness rose sharply.

The addition of COVID to this already ailing social system has been a major blow. His 2020 survey, sponsored by Chicago Children’s Hospital, found that 71% of parents believe the pandemic has taken a toll on their children’s mental health. A national survey of high school students found that nearly one-third of students felt more unhappy or depressed than usual.

Data on emergency room admissions due to mental health crises suggests that something is really changing. In 2020, her ER visits increased by 24% compared to 2019 for children aged 5 to her 11 years old and by 31% for children aged 12 to her 17 years old. The Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association has issued a joint declaration of a “National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health” in October 2021. Mental health experts also note that resources such as psychiatric beds, child psychiatrists and psychologists are so limited that an estimated 80% of seriously ill children give up treatment.

COVID was a respiratory pandemic, but it revealed a perhaps even more pernicious underlying disease: an epidemic of loneliness. Her Cigna, a health insurance company, found that three of her five Americans report feeling lonely, left out, poorly understood and unsociable. announced.

In this post-COVID moment, we need to pause and reflect on some lessons about how we live now.One of them is that we spend too much time alone. People need face-to-face contact.

We don’t need social science to tell us that humans need companionship. I can’t imagine living without a smartphone and by no means suggest a Luddite reaction to technology.

After living in groups for nearly 300,000 years, we still don’t fully understand the complex roles that facial expressions, body language, and even smell play in our well-being. We should think twice before adopting practices that go against our collective nature.

Loneliness is not alleviated by social media for adolescents. In fact, social media makes it worse. In a Wall Street Journal report on Facebook’s internal memo, “32% of teenage girls said Instagram made them feel bad when they felt bad about their bodies,” “(a) Among teens who reported having suicidal thoughts, 13% of UK users and 6% of US users reached Instagram with a desire to commit suicide.”

Academics and researchers are suggesting changes to how we raise our children and how we use social media. Jean Twenge, Claire Morrell, and Brad Wilcox recommend a series of steps state legislatures should consider to limit the harm of social media to children and teens. Mandating age verification on porn sites and social media. Another is to demand that social media platforms shut down overnight for all children. Lack of sleep due to overuse of social media is a serious problem and can itself contribute to depression.

These are good starts, but we need to be more aware of our social selves and our need for one another. I want the smiling elementary school student to become a shining teenager.

MonaCharenis Policy Editor at The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast.

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