A growing body of evidence suggests a link between teen suicide and social media use. Both categories are trending upward at an alarming rate.
From 2007 to 2015, suicide rates doubled among teen girls, reaching a 40-year high. Those same rates increased by more than 30 percent among teen boys according to an analysis from the Centers for Disease Control.
At the same time social media usage has spiked. The Pew Research Center finds a nearly tenfold jump in the past decade among all age groups with young adults topping the list.
The research found 90 percent of people age 18 to 29 use social media compared to 12 percent just ten years earlier. If placed on a graph, the line identifying teen suicide and one representing social media use would be side-by-side and rising like a rocket.
According to a study published this month in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, teens spending five hours a day on social media were 70 percent more likely to have suicidal thoughts or actions than those who reported one hour of daily use.
Psychologist Jean Twenge told the Atlantic in an article titled “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”, “It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their (smart) phones.
CAN YOUTH PASTORS LESSEN TEEN SUICIDE?
In light of these dire statistics, a Colorado teen has a suggestion: take a break from social media. 17 year-old Caitlin Hearty started the campaign in Littleton in which hundreds of teens agreed not to use the internet or social media for one month. The effort was in response to several local teen suicides. Hearty told the Stream, “After hours of scrolling through Instagram feeds, I just feel worse about myself because I feel left out. The campaign picked up on one of the factors mentioned by the CDC researchers; social media posts depicting “perfect” lives may be taking a toll on teens’ mental health.
Could Caitlin’s crusade stimulate a movement among youth pastors where they recommend a social media fast within their youth groups?
BRAVE AND SCARY NEW WORLD
Dan Boal with Alliance Youth is an advocate of social media fasts used in conjunction with time spent physically with peers in meaningful forms of self-disclosure and solitude with Jesus.
“This generation is the first to grow up without knowledge or experience of a life in which young adult interpersonal relationships occurred without the assistance of social media. It’s a pervasive new world where we are just starting to see the effects of constant relational connectivity. Yes, Scripture says it’s not good to for man to be alone, but at the same time we are given examples of life through Jesus where he would spend hours in solitude and prayer.”
He also fears that the constant connection leads to increased mental illness, self-harm and suicide.
“This is one area where the church can have a real advantage because we can create space for analog interpersonal relationships in which the “‘one another’s”’ of the gospel can be practiced and healthy emotional intimacy can be found in a world where we are always digitally together.”
The idea of digital fasting is a hot topic among many church leaders who see it as spiritually beneficial. Anne Jackson, an author, speaker and volunteer pastor at Cross Point Church in Nashville, Tennessee told the Religion News Service, “Unplugging has become essential to my spiritual journey and truly hearing God.”
But now, these sobering statistics relating teen suicide to social media might also reveal that fasting could save some lives.