Typically, when we think about teens who spend a lot of time on their phones, we are more likely to wonder if they’re lonely than if they’re popular, or an up-and-coming social media influencer. This suggests that the idea of the relationship between depression and social media addiction is already imprinted in our minds, even if we don’t quite understand how they became so interconnected. New research suggests a person’s reliance on their smartphone predicts greater loneliness and depressive symptoms, as opposed to the other way around.
What Contributes to Smartphone Addiction?
When looking at the relationship between smartphone addiction and depression, these researchers decided to focus on adolescents, as rates of both issues are most prevalent among this age group. Not only have they all grown up with smartphones, but they are at a stressful stage in life where they are more vulnerable to not knowing how to cope with mental health struggles in a healthy way.
We often think that teens who don’t know who to talk to or where else to turn in life escape into a virtual world, but researchers claim that this problem starts much earlier. Many teens who spend a lot of time online recognize that social media is addictive and has affected their self-esteem, but they feel like their social reputation is tied to their online presence and therefore can’t delete their accounts.
Why Focus on Effects of Smartphone Use?
“If depression and loneliness lead to smartphone dependency, we could reduce dependency by adjusting people’s mental health,” explains study co-author Pengfei Zhao said. “But, if smartphone dependency (precedes depression and loneliness), which is what we found, we can reduce smartphone dependency to maintain or improve wellbeing.”
“We’ve really been trying to focus on this idea of dependency and problematic use of smartphones being the driver for these psychological outcomes,” describes Zhao. “There’s an issue where people are entirely too reliant on the device, in terms of feeling anxious if they don’t have it accessible, and they’re using it to the detriment of their day-to-day life.”
Building Offline Communication Skills in Residential Treatment:
Having worked with adolescents with mental health issues for over a decade, Solstice RTC has noticed a recent increase in the number of girls we work with who have also struggled with smartphone addiction. Noticing this intersection, we have adapted our programming to help address the unhealthy ways that technology is used, expectations that teens have about their online identities, and communication skills missing from online interactions.
Raising awareness about social media addiction has become a unique part of Solstice RTC’s program by teaching parents how to handle these issues and set boundaries around electronics.
Equine Therapy: In addition to group and family therapy, we believe that equine therapy is a powerful way of teaching relational skills, like nonverbal communication and social awareness. Using body language with these sensitive animals helps students learn how to better communicate with others and build relationships.
Weekly phone calls with family: Teens today are used to having more conversations online than in person–even with their families. This depersonalized way of socializing often gets in the way of maintaining two-way conversations. While they do not have access to cell phones, students at Solstice are encouraged to make regular phone calls to friends and family members to strengthen their support system. Every week, students have the chance to video chat with their parents during therapy sessions.
Home visits offer opportunities to self-monitor social media use: Students periodically go home for a few days, prior to leaving the program, to gauge how they handle being at home with access to her cell phone and social media. Every teen has an individualized technology contract that they work on with their parents and their therapist to decide what boundaries, if any, may need to be set around healthy media use.
At Solstice RTC, our goal is to help teen girls learn how to use their phones to communicate more effectively with people without feeling like they have to be attached to their phone every second of the day. Many of the girls we work with come to our program struggling with a “fear of missing out” and describe their compulsion to “stay updated” on their online social lives all the time.
“For the most part, I can do things and have it in my pocket and not need it. Right now, it’s not that big of an issue for me. I can be by myself and be okay and I’m reconnecting with a lot of things I love. And I don’t feel empty.” -Testimonial from former student who struggled with internet addiction
Solstice RTC Can Help
Solstice is a groundbreaking residential treatment center for girls, ages 14 to 18. Our girls often struggle with depression, anxiety, trauma, ADHD, technology addiction, and other emotional or behavioral problems when they come to us. Through a unique combination of therapeutic programs based upon both traditional and holistic mental health treatment, we treat our clients with age and gender-specific techniques. We strive to empower teenage women with the ability to believe in themselves offline and provide the tools and motivation required to instill these beliefs for life.
For more information about smartphone addiction, contact us at 866-278-3345.