Concern has been rising over the last several years about the increase in anxiety and depression in kids and teens. According to the CDC, suicides in the 10-24 year old age group increased 60% between 2007 and 2018. COVID has done little to improve things with 75% of teens self reporting at least one adverse mental health symptom and 25% seriously considering suicide in the 30 days preceding the survey.
There are a lot of factors impacting these numbers, but one can be easily managed by your children – with a lot of encouragement from you. A recent study found that the amount of negative media consumed has a direct correlation to negative psychological states. This is particularly true when people were exposed to content that was negative and encouraged fear or anxious responses.
The researchers also found that media tended to have an amplifying effect on a problem. For example, reporting in grand detail the death of one young person and ignoring the millions of other similar young people who were not similarly impacted. That type of reporting can make your kids feel as if many or most young people are having similar experiences.
The final problem researchers noticed is that on social media in particular it was almost impossible for young people to differentiate between rumors, quasi- factual stories and factual stories. They were more likely to believe a story based on the person who posted it, rather than the validity of the story itself. They even found that people who viewed negative content on the internet were more likely to report PTSD symptoms that those who watched similar content on tv or read about it in a newspaper. (Although those who viewed content on tv had more symptoms than those who merely read about it. Research has shown the brain has a hard time differentiating between what it sees being actually experienced or viewed merely as entertainment. The brain defaults to everything viewed as an actual experience.)
On the other hand, researchers found that Philippians 4:8 is the answer. Okay, they didn’t actually quote the verse, but they found that watching heroic acts, heart warming stories and speeches from experts – especially with concrete advice, were helpful. Those viewing that type of content felt more positive and experienced less anxiety and depression.
Encourage your kids to limit their exposure to negative content of any type. If they want to stay informed, limit the amount of time they spend seeking content on the topic as much as possible. Encourage them to get their information by reading the most reputable source they can find. If they feel they must watch live or taped footage, tv is preferable to the internet. Exposure to filmed or live footage should be kept to the bare minimum. If they want to learn more about a topic, they should look for articles by actual experts on the topic and preferably well done research.
If troubling events continue for a long block of time – like COVID – encourage your kids to Philippians 4:8 their lives daily. Any content they view should be positive and uplifting. Watching scary or violent entertainment will only add to their stress and anxiety. If they want to get involved – always a great idea – help them find content that explains concrete ways to help.
You don’t have to ban your kids from using the internet to help them manage their emotions – especially in tough or traumatic times. Just teach them how to use it in ways that will help and not hurt them.