The internet is ruining teens — CDC report is the latest proof

Kirsten Fleming

Mental health

February 14, 2023 | 7:25 p.m

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the agency’s biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey, and it painted a bleak picture for our young people.

Among the more alarming stats, most teenage girls (57%) felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021, twice as likely as teenage boys (29%). Almost one in three teenage girls seriously consider attempting suicide.

Adolescent anxiety and apathy are not new social developments. Every generation has its own version of the hormonal riot — and yes, the inevitable adult hand-wringing that accompanies it.

The Boomers cut their teeth out with Rock ‘n’ Roll and “Rebel Without a Cause.” When I was in high school, bands of grumpy, shaggy kids swore their allegiance to the music and hopelessness of Kurt Cobain.

Being an emo teen has always been a rite of passage, but it’s increasingly becoming a crisis.

So what the hell has changed? Well, pretty much everything.

Today’s kids are emerging from the tumbling and isolating COVID lockdowns. They are more medicated than ever and live a large part of their lives online. And it’s hard to dispute that the internet and social media have lubricated the slide into the abyss – especially for vulnerable young people.

Social media and the internet are already helping anxious teens doomscroll.
Getty Images

Study after study has proven this, including the 2020 findings that Instagram wreaked havoc on girls’ mental states.

And yet no one intervened meaningfully.

Whatever your poison – depression, eating disorders or gender confusion – you will find it in some corner of the internet. There are subreddits, TikToks, and YouTube videos that cater to them all, creating a feedback loop that can be virtually inescapable.

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Online, teenagers are being fed the cynical ideas that capitalism sucks – they’re either the oppressors or the oppressed – language is violence and if they make it out of their teenage years, climate change is waiting to deal their deathblow.

No wonder these children are paralyzed with fear.

Adriana Kuch killed herself after being beaten up at school and video of the attack circulated on social media.
Facebook/Jennifer Ferro

These websites and platforms are also working to replace parents as gatekeepers. Instead of turning to adults for help, kids can find a cast of self-proclaimed “therapists” in their phone — many of them monsters selling malleable teens with fringe ideas. And, of course, there’s the odd fetishization of mental illness, including the bevy of girls on TikTok displaying symptoms of Tourette’s Syndrome.

Previous generations had to pick up a book or play a record to define the vague despair they felt. It took effort to have some introspection – something that is healthy in small doses.

Now kids have doomscrolling on demand and information overload.

But you don’t have to read an alarming CDC study to know there’s a mental health crisis affecting young people in this country. You just have to read the newspaper. In the last two weeks, stomach-churning videos have surfaced, one of a 9-year-old girl being attacked by a 15-year-old boy on a school bus. Then there is the tragic case of 14-year-old Adriana Kuch, who took her own life after being beaten by thugs in the hallway of her New Jersey school and the video circulated on social media.

A variety of problems plague teenagers, who report alarming rates of depression.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Even if you can control how your child uses the Internet, you cannot control how it is used against your child.

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These statistics should serve as a wake-up call for adults to take a more confident role in moderating internet use. We know we can’t turn off the internet and send kids out into the world with clamshell phones.

But we can focus on honing their coping skills instead of constantly reminding them of their own fragility.

We teach kids to “be kind” so quickly that we forget to teach them to be tough too. While it won’t vaccinate you from all the teenage diseases, thick skin is a good tool to have in your arsenal.

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