Depression, Teens, and Facebook

by Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC
There are recent reports concerning whether teen Facebook users experience an increase in depression. Researchers disagree whether this is a new type of depression or an extension of existing forms of depression. Teens with low self-esteem, school stress and family stress are vulnerable to depressions. The number of friends they have on Facebook, their status — as well as the status of their friends, and the constantly updated photos may add to a teen feeling self critical and not “popular” enough. It can also add to feeling ostracized, bullied, or teased.

Social networks help teens feel more connected. Social networks have become the place teens “hang out.” However, if that teen does not feel like they measure up to other teens, it can become a world of loneliness and a constant reminder of perceived shortcomings. In extreme cases, suicide notes have been posted on Facebook, which demonstrate the powerful connection teens feel toward their virtual and real friends. Social networks offer teens a skewed view of the real world and they don’t have the brain development to understand this is not the real world.

If the teen’s family is not engaged with the teen, the social network takes on a much more potent place in the teen’s world. In fact, it may become the child’s only world. Pediatricians are now encouraging parent’s to talk with their kids about being online and how to recognize depression caused by social media, cyber bullying, sexting and other online risks.

Ten signs your teen may be depressed:
1. Loss of interest in activities, hobbies and other things they
used to be very interested in.
2. More isolated — never see them with their friends anymore.
3. Sleeping all the time or up in the middle of the night because
they cannot sleep.
4. A loss or increase in appetite.
5. Notable weight loss or gain.
6. Lethargic or flat mood.
7. More irritable or easily frustrated.
8. A downward trend in grades.
9. Not wanting to go to school.
10. Weepy, labile moods.

If you see any of these signs with your teen and they last more than two weeks, it is time to talk to your teen and make an appointment with your pediatrician for an evaluation of depression. Depression is insidious and many times teens won’t know they are depressed until the depression lifts. Depression can kill, but it is also curable.

Signs your child may be the victim of cyber bullying:
Please note many of these signs mimic signs of depression. Parents should intervene right away when they see the below signs. Waiting two weeks may be too long.

1. Hesitant to be online; nervous when an instant message, text message or e-mail appears.
2. Visibly upset after using the computer or cell phone, or suddenly avoids it.
3. Hides or clears the computer screen, or closes their cellphone when you enter the room.
4. Spends unusual and/or longer hours online in a more tense pensive tone.
5. Withdraws from friends, falls behind in schoolwork or wants to avoid school.
6. Suddenly sullen, evasive, or withdrawn in personality or behavior.
7. Trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, excessively moody or crying.
8. Suspicious phone calls, e-mails and packages arrive at your home.
9. Possible drop in academic performance.

As parents, sometimes we need subtle ways to talk to our kids about social media. It is important to keep the lines of communication open and talk often to our kids about the dangers and the benefits of social media and other electronic communication.

If you are concerned in regards to talking to your child about the social media sites, sexting, and or cyberbullying here some simple conversations starters from TrueCare.net. True Care is a social media monitoring service for parents, for which I am an advisor. Hopefully, these questions and conversation starters will help you transform a quick after-school chat into an in-depth discussion about stress, popularity, depression and social media.

1. Has anyone ever emailed or posted something on Facebook that made you uncomfortable?
2. Do kids at your school ever talk about sending sexy photos to each other? Do you know anyone that does it? Why do you think they do it?
3. Have you heard about anyone that has been bullied online? What happened to them?
4. Has anyone you know gotten in trouble for being a bully online? What happened to them?
5. Did you hear about the girl who committed suicide because she was bullied online? Why do you think she did that? Do you think her parents saw a difference in her behavior?
6. What advice would you give a friend who told you they were being bullied on line?

It’s a new world out there, for parents as much as children. Get involved. Talk to your kids. Visit the sights they are visiting. Let them know you are there when they need you. The teen years are a relatively short amount of time, but decisions made during this time can change both you and your child’s life forever. Help your child make healthy choices .

Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at www.StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at www.maryjorapini.com.

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