A new report, conducted and published by the Child Mind Institute and the California Partners Project, took an in-depth look at how teens are coping during the coronavirus pandemic and found that many are struggling, relying heavily on screens to handle the isolation of the past several months.
The report included in-depth interviews with 46 teenagers, between 13 and 17 years old, in California. The surveyed teens were asked to keep detailed, week-long journals of their habits and lifestyles.
“During COVID, it became very important for us to look at how the kids are doing, and our kids are not all right,” said Dr. Harold Koplewicz, child and adolescent psychiatrist and founder and president of the Child Mind Institute, a nonprofit focused on supporting children impacted by mental illness.
What effects did the surveyed teenagers report?
The report used a diverse group of participants from 11 counties in California. To see if there was a connection between teens with diagnosed mental health challenges and increased risk of unhealthy technology habits, the group included 14 teenagers with diagnosed mental health conditions.
“The 14 out of 46 who have a mental health disorder are more symptomatic,” Koplewicz said. “The others who are typically developing are also suffering from signs and symptoms of minor depression and anxiety, worries about the future, the uncertainty of the pandemic and what it’s doing to their lives. It also seems that they’re sleeping less, they’re spending more time on screens.”
“… Every child and teenager’s mental health is affected by COVID,” Koplewicz continued. “That means that they may not have a mental health disorder, but they are experiencing symptoms and anxiety, depression, more inattention, more impulsivity.”
The report can be summarized in four key findings:
- Teens are experiencing “a tremendous loss due to school closure and social isolation.”
- Teens have “limited opportunity” to form unique identities.
- Teens are using “social media and gaming (as) the main way to meet their social needs.”
- The extent of their technology use and its impact “aren’t obvious, even to those closest to teens,” according to the report.
The report also includes comments from the teens themselves.
“I’ve been using TikTok a lot recently because it’s mindless and you can scroll through it for hours without feeling like you’ve been there for more than 15 minutes,” said one teenager, age 15.
“Sometimes the phone hits me in my face so I must fall asleep with it in my hand,” said another 15-year-old.
“Mostly I feel more isolated, like, disconnected from what I used to be,” Marleigh Leaks, a teen involved in the survey, told NBC News correspondent Kate Snow. “Even though I am still connected to, like, friends and family, you know, online and sometimes in person — like, I miss being able to just go over to somebody’s house or be able to meet up with people at school … I’m definitely not as happy as I used to be.”
Koplewicz said that while…