Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6
A disturbing trend affecting Gen Z girls is increased anxiety (or worse). It’s a result of what one writer called our “unplanned experiment of social media.” Studies show that American adolescents are becoming more anxious, depressed and lonely.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, The Lonely Burden of Today’s Teenage Girls, the authors interviewed a young woman who helps her friends with “debilitating problems like cutting and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).”
She is only 14 and has put suicide prevention apps on many of her friends phones. For some reason, when her friends are depressed, they call her.
A Pew Research Center survey showed that 36% of girls report being “extremely anxious every day”. They worry about school shootings, melting polar ice and their ability to afford college.
The authors of the WSJ article did their own investigation. While their sample was not large (100 American girls aged 12 to 19), the results were highly consistent. In their study, they found some good news and some not so good news.
They found that mothers are the best friend of many girls and that the close-knit family has rebounded as divorce rates are at a 40-year low. Not surprisingly, the girls are less self-sufficient than prior generations.
Today’s girls are less likely to have a driver’s license or work outside the home doing jobs like baby-sitting. They are even less likely to date. This all makes them more solitary and likely to spend Saturday nights alone watching Netflix and surfing social media.
The omnipresent smartphone has consequences. The Pew Research Center notes that 95% of American teenagers have access to a smartphone. Common Sense Media has a 2019 survey showing that they average six to nine hours a day online.
They feel manipulated by tech companies into being constantly connected. A Common Sense Media study shows that 29% of teens sleep with their phone. From personal experience, I can tell you that lack of sleep is a big driver of depression.
So, what happens when you put a sleep-deprived teen who is used to being alone at home into a new environment such as when they go to college? It’s a train wreck. The American College Health Association reported that 31% of female freshmen in 2011 reported overwhelming anxiety or panic attacks.
By 2016, that number had doubled to 63%. Not a good trend. That is almost two out of three girls.
The worst statistic of all is the suicide rate, which had declined every year after 1993. Since 2007, suicide rates have skyrocketed. 2007 is the year of the introduction of the iPhone. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Even the American Association of Pediatrics warns that excessive social media use can lead to depression and anxiety. As the authors state: “Social media works against basic development goals – physical, cognitive, relational, sexual and maturational.”
Although the studies cited relate only to teenage girls, the statistics relating to college anxiety applies to men as well. They are not exempt.
Gen Z is the first generation to have grown up with the existence of smartphones. Their integration with social media has been seamless. Parents and mentors alike are now just seeing the dangers of overuse.
Shift for a moment to the passage above, where Paul encourages us not to be anxious. This is particularly personal to me: I burned out in the early 1990’s. My primary symptom was clinical depression. I know a lot about this from personal experience.
Even Paul suffered burnout (See 2 Corinthians 7:5-8). The word “downcast” in the NIV translation is actually better translated “depressed”. What helped Paul through this? A guy named Titus. From that passage came my Titus ministry.
I have helped dozens of people over the years dealing with burnout and depression. I still do, and if you are concerned about burnout, you may email me, and I will send you materials on Burnout which I developed when asked to speak about my experience.
One thing is helpful to get back on track: A belief in God, knowing that prayer is an important part of dealing with anxiety. Whenever you feel powerless, you turn to God for help and comfort. That’s what these Gen Z’s need in a post-Christian world.
As mentors who may talk with young parents, it is essential that you educate yourself on digital mental health issues faced by Gen Z You can provide guidance on how children can navigate through the digital thicket.
The challenge is that the smartphone is not going away. We need to be diligent with our children and mentees to be sure that they adopt healthy habits.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: As a mentor, you can determine if your mentee is dealing with anxiety and whether they are mis-managing the time spent on smartphones.
FURTHER READING: Common Sense Media has lots of resources for parents.
Recommendations of Media Use by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
WORSHIP: Listen to I See the Lord Vertical Worship
MentorLink:For more information about MentorLink, go to www.mentorlink.org.
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