What role does social media play in the rise of teenage suicide?

   When you see reports on teenage suicide and depression, you cannot help but wonder what role the internet plays in all that. Access to social media is perhaps the biggest difference in the lives of middle schoolers from how their parents grew up.

“When we were kids, we played outside. We did physical things, just running around, things like that,” said Sebastian Rios, a father of two. 

Not many kids play that way today. They’re plugged in, sharing photos, comments, and likes within the apps on their phones. There’s pressure to gain followers and likes. It’s stressful. 

Rios believes the isolation one feels on the internet likely plays a part for some teenagers. “On social media, it’s a lot easier to say rude things, mean things that kids take personally. And that may have something to do with it.”

Pew Research Center suggests as many as 59% of teenagers have experienced some form of cyberbullying. Not only physical threats but name calling, spreading false rumors, and receiving explicit images they did not ask for.

“A bully can be invisible and a bully can be anybody, and a bully can be your best friend

“A bully can be invisible and a bully can be anybody, and a bully can be your best friend,” family counselor Jason Gibson told me. That makes it nearly impossible for today’s kids to stop worrying about when they might be bullied again.  “It doesn’t matter where you are, you’re always available and open when somebody wants to do hurtful things.”

What can parents do in response? Understand what today’s kids are dealing with, not just every day but every hour. If you have young children who don’t have social media accounts yet or a smartphone. Hold off until your child is at least 14 years old before giving them one.

http://www.waituntil8th.org has many good resources for parents who encourage other parents to wait until their child is 14 or older to give them a smartphone. At 14, according to some studies, teenagers are mature enough to handle being always connected. Facebook and other social media networks require users to be 13 and over.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, tech giants who gave us many of the technology gadgets we’re addicted to, raised their kids without smartphones, choosing to give them their first device at the age of 14.