Kate Tuttle: According to a recent study, teenagers who spend a lot of time online are more likely than their less-wired peers to suffer from clinical depression. The study, which focused on adolescents in China, reported that many teens rejected time with friends and family in favor of more screen time.
Scary stuff! Still, the study itself sounds both obvious and not quite convincing. I'd be curious to know what else was going on in the lives of the kids who repeatedly sought virtual, rather than real, relationships and experiences. Could depression or other emotional problems be a cause, as well as a result, of spending too much time in solitary online pursuits?
And what about kids whose online lives are an adjunct to a healthy, real-time social life? Many teens I know are pretty much always glued to a screen (whether it be a laptop or smartphone), but they're interacting, however vapidly, with their real-life friends, not playing lonely games. As much as my generation craved the endless phone call (remember walking so far away with the handset that the curly cord got caught on kitchen chairs and such?), today's youth are just as connected with their BFFs and crushes. Only the technology is different.
I know there's a great temptation to worry about teenagers, and there's legitimate reason to worry. Adolescents have underdeveloped brains notably lacking in sensible risk assessment and good judgment. Add to that a healthy sex drive and the car keys, and you bet it's scary to be the parent of even the most emotionally well-balanced teen. And it's true that teenagers are vulnerable to mental illness -- which can often go undiagnosed or undercover, masked by substance abuse or other problems.
Still, the vast majority of kids are all right. And isn't it really up to parents to understand what teens are doing online and why they're spending their time there, rather than simply railing against this new landscape in which our teens, whether we like it or not, are growing up?