If you ask a member of generation Generation Z what it means to make a meaningful personal connection, many will tell you that these kinds of connections are made predominantly online. Over the past decade or so, our relationship with technology has changed drastically. With the advent of smartphones, users can simply log on and connect with other users from anywhere from down the street to across the globe. Using social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr, teens feel they are able to make meaningful connections with their peers, and form bonds through these digital avenues.
But are these connections truly “meaningful,” or are they doing more harm than good?
According to a recent study conducted by Ottawa Public Health, teenagers who spend more than two hours per day on the internet are more likely to experience psychological threats and suicidal thoughts, and more frequently struggle from mental health issues.
Within the United States alone, over $100 billion is spent annually on medical costs associated with mental health.
According to Huffington Post, Ottawa researchers feel that while the study necessarily doesn’t provide causation, it showed that the correlation ran both ways. Namely, teens who struggle with mental illness are more likely to spend more time online, and when individuals spend time online, their excessive use of social media leads them to feel alone, heightening feelings of poor mental health.
What many of these teens really need, researchers say, is face-to-face interactions and support from health care providers, family, and friends.
In fact, a recent study conducted at the University of Rochester suggests that people with a great deal of friendships and social activity at age 20 and 30 were more likely to have positive mental health in their 50s, as compared to individuals who didn’t cultivate friendships.
In the study, 100 University of Rochester students were tracked for over 30 years, during which the participants answered questions about social life, work life, relationships, and general interactions.
The study suggests that meaningful personal relationships and a healthy social life contributes to positive mental health.
While teens may use social media to connect with others, their search for companionship may lead to further feelings of isolation and sadness.
Perhaps it’s time to turn off the screens and look to our friends and family for emotional support.