Teen Mental Health Impacted by Digital Habits — Help for Parents

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As a parent, watching your child struggle with mental health isn’t easy. As Larissa “Larz” May knows, what is portrayed on the outside, and in social media especially, is only half the story. May is the founder of #HalfTheStory, a campaign and organization that highlights how social media impacts mental health. “#HalfTheStory defines Digital Wellbeing as a combination of emotional wellness and digital habits,” May tells CircleAround. Her team will soon launch The Digital Reset, a 4-week program designed to support teens emotionally and socially as they transition to high school in the digital age.

We spoke to May about how parents can support their teens. She shared some tips.

1The Myth of the Moody Teenager

The idea of a moody teen, known for temporary moments of angst before bouncing back to being happy and hopeful, is now more of a myth than a reality. May cites a CDC study related to teen mental health and how they use media. The data, collected between 2009 to 2021, states that the percentage of American high-school students who said they felt “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” increased from 26 percent to 44 percent. 

2Self-Soothing Screen Time: More Damaging Than Once Realized

“This is the highest level of teenage sadness ever recorded in human history,” May emphasizes. “Teens are increasingly turning to the screens to self-soothe in times of isolation, boredom, or stress.” While outlets, such as the Sad Girls Club, are working to provide resources and safe spaces for Gen Z’s mental health, the majority of ways in which teens consume digital media — social forums, video games, and online learning — may be more damaging than we realize. 

3Teens vs. Screens

According to an article in Psychology Today, teens are finding it difficult to remove themselves from the dependency of screens and technology, which was amplified as a result of isolation under COVID-19. Parental involvement may be necessary, but doesn’t need to feel restrictive. 

4Parents Should Set an Example

“Try a different approach by opening up about your own struggles and making space for your kids to do the same,” May suggests. “This can help show kids you empathize with them.” 

“#HalfTheStory also offers support groups for parents who are struggling to navigate the digital world and their child’s wellbeing.”

5Peer Support

If your teen is resistant to family discussions, get them to seek peer support. May recommends Teen Line, a teen support hotline. “Sometimes, it’s helpful to have a conversation with someone you don’t know, who you can be fully honest with in times of trouble. This can be especially helpful for kids who come from challenging homes and need a space for peace and support.” 

6Support for Parents is Essential, Too

When a child is diagnosed with depression, parents can feel inadequate, often blaming themselves for issues that are common, but out of their control. It’s just as important for adults to have support and healthy coping mechanisms.

May suggests parents seek out second opinions when something doesn’t feel right. There are many methodologies for mental health care, and it can take some time to find the right treatment or support needed.

7Get the Grandparents Involved

Grandparents — or other trusted, bonded adults — can play a critical role in the family unit, and can provide the kind of support parents need when times get tough. “Parents are preconditioned to react ‘quickly’ whereas grandparents often play the role of an active listener,” May explains. “Allowing your children to develop independent relationships with their grandparents is crucial; they can be a sounding board for support and can be neutral.” 

The Bottom Line

It’s important to offer constructive support as teens navigate their way through life, while also ensuring the security of your own mental wellbeing. Organizations like #HalfTheStory are helping teens and parents build stronger connections on and offline, helping provide a healthier future for decades to come.

Tags: Family, Mental Health, parenting, Teens

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Written By

Katka Lapelosová

Katka is a writer from New York City, currently living in Belgrade, Serbia. See Full Bio

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