In his book Permission to Feel, scientist Dr. Mark Brackett cites research of interviews with 22,000 teenagers about their feelings related to school and 3/4ths of the words were negative: tired, bored, and stressed topping the list. He also cites a report by UNICEF that says American teenagers rank in the bottom quarter of developed nations in well-being and life satisfaction. We read data that shows anxiety and depression escalating among teenagers and can point to a myriad of reasons. Social media is often cited as one of the culprits.
When people wonder how social media can adversely impact a teenager’s mental health, I think of yearbook day. One of the most anxious days each year for me in high school was yearbook day – the day when yearbooks were passed out to all the students.
- First, I would check the pages with collages of pictures in the front and back of the book. I may see pics of parties or tables where I was invited and included. But I may also see pics of events I missed, of tables I was not invited to sit at our parties I was not invited to attend. The collage of pictures in my yearbooks was a form of FOMO before there was a name for it.
- Next, I would look to see the unveiling of the most likely to succeed, the best-looking, most athletic, the most fun, etc. I was never named any of those things but some of my friends were and, in those moments, I was reminded of what I was not.
- Finally, I would ask people to sign my yearbook, to leave comments for me. If I built up enough nerve to ask a girl that I had a crush on, I would put a lot of hope in what she would write in my yearbook. Would it be a trite “Stay sweet” or “Have a great summer” or something more meaningful? I would read the comments over and over.
Oh, the anxiousness around yearbook day! It sounds so foolish now as I don’t even know where my yearbooks are today, but it was real then. When I think of yearbook day, I am not surprised to read reports that anxiety and depression are escalating among teenagers.
Growing up today would be much more challenging for me. One day a year I lived with that angst of yearbook day. But then the day was gone. With a phone in the pocket, every day is yearbook day. Teenagers today live with a perpetual yearbook day in their pockets. There is a constant barrage of pictures showing if you are included or excluded. There is a constant unveiling of the best-looking, the most-likely to succeed, etc. And the comments are not isolated to the back cover of a yearbook. They are for the world to see.
What shall we do?
We must recognize the struggle the teenagers in our homes and in our churches are facing. We must be kind and empathetic. We must provide caring adults to mentor them. We must help them form community with others. And, yes, we would be wise to help the teenagers in our homes and in our churches put down their phones more often which means we need to put down ours more often too. We must help them see that all the distractions of this world will not satisfy. Only Jesus will. He is the best portion of the meal, of this life, and He will not be taken away from us.