Creative Child

The Children are Crying Out. Who is Listening?

by Rebecca Eanes

Something is happening with our children, and we need to stop and pay attention. They are crying out. Suicide rates for young children are climbing, and the number of beautiful souls we are losing every year is alarming. In children ages 5 to 13, one dies by suicide every 5 days. (Source) There was a 54% spike in suicides in young children between 2013 and 2015.

We lose thousands of teens every year. In fact, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year olds. Studies show that 90% of those have a mental health problem. (Source)

And this is not good news because mental health problems in children are also on the rise. Depression and bipolar disorder affect 14.3% of youth ages 13-17. Nearly 1 in 3 adolescents will meet criteria for an anxiety disorder by age 18. (Source)

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Studies have linked the usage of smartphones to mental health problems. Nearly 90% of 16- to 24-year-olds use social networking. Heavy use of social media increases unhappiness by 56% and depression by 27%. Smartphone use is affecting sleep, thereby affecting mood, behavior, and the ability to regulate emotions. (Source) One recent study found that internet and smartphone addiction predisposed the adolescent brain to depression. Another study found that kids who spent three or more hours a day on smartphones or other electronic devices were 34% more likely to suffer at least one suicide-related outcome. (Source)

This isn’t a problem unique to children. Our own smartphone usage is having a detrimental effect as well. One-third of kids reported feeling unimportant when their parents use their smartphones during meal times, conversations, TV watching, and playing outside according to another recent study. (Source) Our phone usage makes us more irritable with our children and causes us to miss bids for connection.

Parents often become defensive when their own smartphone addiction is mentioned. “We aren’t addicted! We deserve a small break from the kids, surely” – this seems to be the common narrative along with “Now it’s a phone instead of the newspaper, but parents have always been looking at something besides their kids 24/7.” If you don’t think you’re addicted to your smartphone, try powering it off and putting it in a drawer for a day. The newspaper didn’t grab our attention for hours on end and keep us coming back to check over and over. We must recognize the problem and the loss of heart-to-heart connection that it’s causing so that we can help our children (and ourselves).

The internet is sucking us all in like some cheesy horror flick, leaving our dining tables, living rooms, playgrounds, and our relationships deserted.

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Smartphones and social media aren’t the only culprits, I’m afraid. A correlation exists between the rise in depression and anxiety with the decline in play as well as academic pressure. I’m sure there are many other pieces to this jigsaw puzzle as well.

There is something we can do.

Secure attachment relationships reduce the effects of stress says Megan Gunnar, PhD. She has spent 40 years studying childhood attachments and how they affect the way children process stress and emotions. (Source) For young children, this attachment reduces the production of stress hormones. A positive parent-child relationship is also associated with less depressive symptoms and behavioral problems in middle childhood through adolescence. (Source) Research shows that adolescents who have more supportive, positive relationships with parents experience lower levels of depressive symptoms and are at a decreased risk for developing clinical levels of depression whereas low levels of support and a poor relationship leads to an increased risk.

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