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The scary truth about what's hurting our kids

In the past week, I’ve read several studies that are scary to me… it’s the scary truth about what’s hurting our kids.   We all know that what our kids hear becomes their inner voice, but it’s hard to control what they hear from others, isn’t it?

CNN recently interviewed Dr. Jean Twenge, author of iGen and her interview worried me – because I saw the truth that I would be facing in just a few short years as my oldest son would enter high school and I would be parenting teens and elementary ages kids too.   Dr. Twenge started doing research 25 years ago on generational differences, but when 2011 -2012 hit, she saw something that would scare her to the core.   This is the year when everyone had video games and those having iPhones went over the 50% mark.

Think about what that really means:  it was when people began to have access to the digital world.  Social media took off, sending videos & photos increased (along with feelings of being left out).  The line that separated our home lives from our school/work & social lives became very blurred.

The results of that showed teen behavior that should scare all of us.

  • This was the year that more kids started to say that they felt “sad, hopeless, useless… that they couldn’t do anything right (depression).”
  • They had frequent mood swings.
  • They felt left-out and lonely.
  • The depression rate is rising even faster among millennials (up 47 percent) and adolescents (up 47 percent for boys and up 65 percent for girls. (source: BCBS report)
  • Depression Diagnoses of major depression are rising fastest among those under age 35.
  • Depression Diagnoses have increased 47% since 2013 among millennials (ages 18–34).”
  • A substantial increase in suicide rate.

Before I give you any more info, I want you to look at these graphs of what could be considered negative behaviors and look at how the information correlates to the iPhones being released.

They aren’t hanging out with friends nearly as much.

A close up of a graph.
scary truth about what's hurting our kids

They aren’t dating as much in their teen years.

A screenshot of a graph.

More likely to feel lonely in their teen years.

scary truth about what's hurting our kids

They are getting less sleep.

She goes on to say that we are in the worst mental health crisis in decades.   You can get her book, iGen, with my Amazon affiliate link here, to read the rest of her findings.

Why is this happening?  Why are kids more depressed because of electronics?
Think about when we were in school – we didn’t know every time that there was a get-together that we weren’t invited to and we didn’t see pictures of each outing, game, or party.

We didn’t care what we looked like when we were hanging out with friends in my teenage years, because we were the only ones that were there- I can remember sitting around with my best friends in our sweatpants, just laughing – I didn’t wear makeup or care if I had my hair fixed just right, because the worry of a phone or camera wasn’t there.

Think about bullies.

When we left school, we left them. If teasing happened, it didn’t happen at home.  It didn’t happen so publicly. Everyone couldn’t see it or know what they were teasing other kids about since they weren’t there.  

Now, it’s all public knowledge, and our kids’ peer group can join in or watch. It’s horrifying.

I can’t imagine being a tween or teenager now.  Although- as the parents of children, we have to believe it, because we have to help our children navigate it. And the parents and teen relationship is much more difficult. It’s hard to be a role model and encourage your teen when you have difficulty relating, and raising teenage boys and girls well has never been important.

the scary truth hurting our children

According to Victoria Prooday, Occupational Therapist & writer at, “There is a silent tragedy developing right now, in our homes, and it concerns our most precious jewels – our children… Researchers have been releasing alarming statistics on a sharp and steady increase in kids’ mental illness, which is now reaching epidemic proportions:

She goes on to say that “Today’s children are being deprived of the fundamentals of a healthy childhood:

  • Emotionally available parents that stay connected
  • Conversations that included eye contact
  • Clearly defined limits and guidance
  • Responsibilities
  • Balanced nutrition and adequate sleep
  • Movement and outdoors
  • Creative play, social interaction, opportunities for unstructured times and boredom

Instead, children are being served with:

  • Digitally distracted parents
  • Indulgent parents who let their teenage sons and daughters “Rule the world”
  • A sense of entitlement rather than responsibility
  • Inadequate sleep and unbalanced nutrition
  • Sedentary indoor lifestyle
  • Easier access to drugs and alcohol that can lead to substance abuse
  • Endless stimulation, technological babysitters, instant gratification, and absence of dull moments”
    How true… and how sad.

You can read the rest of her story and more at

I couldn’t agree more.  According to, “Despite the rise in teen depression, the study, which analyzed data from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, reported that there wasn’t a corresponding increase in mental health treatment for adolescents and young adults. Researchers said this is an indication that there is a growing number of young people who are under-treated or not treated at all for their symptoms.”

The article goes on to say that it’s not just how our teens behave and feel, it’s young kids – in elementary school.  School Counselors like Ellen Chance in Palm Beach say they see evidence that technology and online bullying are affecting kids’ mental health as young as fifth grade, particularly girls.

“I couldn’t tell you how many students are being malicious to each other over Instagram. “I’ve had cases where girls don’t come to school, and they are cutting themselves and becoming severely depressed because they feel outcasted and targeted.” She says she now sees cutting incidents pretty much weekly at her elementary school, and while they vary in severity, it’s a signal that not all is right.”

A group of kids looking at their phones.

What can we do about it?

1. Swap Chores for Screentime

Responsibilities increase their self-worth.   Example: if you don’t set the table, we can’t eat.  If you don’t wash your clothes, you will have nothing to wear tomorrow:

“To develop a high self-esteem a person needs a purpose. A key component to high self-esteem relies on how you view yourself regarding contribution. In other words, in the child development process, chores are a big role in a kid’s self-esteem.” ~Impact Parenting.

 Swap Chores for Screen Time.  If they want to have screen time, they need to pitch in first.  

They need to learn that work comes before play.   This will drastically cut back on their electronic time without any nagging or yelling from you. You can purchase the cards here. 

Cards to swap chores for screen time by yourmodernfamily

2. The AAP now suggests screening all children for depression starting at age 11.

3. Get back to what we did before phones (back to what our parents did when we were young)… spend time playing games with our kids.

4. Spend dinnertime talking.

5. Drop everything that you are doing when your kids get home from school to TALK to them.

6. Make dinner without having the TV on, the phone close by, or the tablet tuned into something.

7. Use any ‘car time’ to talk to our kids (maybe even by not allowing electronics in the car)

8. Be sure that your child is getting enough hours of sleep.   This is a substantial contributing factor.  

9. Don’t keep a lot of junk food in the house.  Limit junk food & replace it with fruits & vegetables.  If your child is picky, they can certainly find a fruit or vegetable that they like.  (I’ve taught our kids to make smoothies, too, but they have to clean up after themselves, or they lose the privilege of using the blender… they LOVE to make them, so this is a consequence that they will not want to be placed on them).

A close up of a calendar on a white background.

Join the one-on-one time challenge (30 days) for FREE. 

11Have a no-tech week and tell your kids to “go play!”   Don’t feel the need to always play with them.  My job, as a play therapist, is to teach parents how to play with their kids to help them, so while I always think that playing with your kids is a good idea, but I also want them to play alone.  I want them to learn how to keep themselves entertained.

12. From the time that our kids were very young, I gave them time to entertain themselves, and now they are able to find ways to keep themselves busy (drawing, playing, building, etc..)

13.  Don’t rescue your kids. Here’s a recent example that happened in our house:
I’ve started having our kids pack their lunches (with my supervision), but yesterday one of our sons decided to wait.. .and wait… and wait.  When it was down to 10 minutes before leaving, he asked me to pack it.  

I said no, and he then asked for lunch money.  

I said, “I think it’s upstairs in your piggy bank if you have some in there.” His face said it all.   I wasn’t going to buy him out of this.  It was his responsibility.

It is NEVER easy to teach our kids these lessons, but they serve our kids well. He quickly made himself lunch and was on his way. He learned a valuable life lesson about preparing himself for the day.

14.  Talk to your kids about why they need to come to you if something is wrong.  I talk to our kids about all of this, and they know that I would do anything to help them.   I say it daily… “If you are ever feeling sad or left out about something and it becomes too big for you to handle easily, come to me.”

Yes, it’s a lot to tell them, but it is the truth.  I need them to know it.  It’s not a joking matter, and it’s not one to take lightly. Talk to your kids TODAY.

15. Make a rule with yourself that you will limit YOUR online distractions when your kids are home. Set a time that you can put electronics away… for example: Make 3:30-9:00 a no-tech time for you, the parent.   (or whatever hours your kids are home). It will not only benefit your kids, but it will help you, too.

Yes, it’s the scary truth about what’s hurting our kids, but we have the power to help.

Here are more posts you might like:

lay with me
A group of people walking on a beach
Cards to swap chores for screen time by yourmodernfamily

Hi there!

I’m Becky, a former elementary school teacher turned certified child development therapist and blogger. I work at home with my husband and together we are raising (and partially homeschooling) our four children in the Carolinas. I love diet coke, ice cream, and spending time with my family.

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  1. Get the book nutrient power by William Walsh to learn about using targeted nutrient therapy for depression and related issues. Mensah Medical has 2 wonderful doctors who do this – and info for teens regarding nutrient therapy. They treated our son with fantastic results – no meds. They are the future – definitely look them up!

  2. Thank you for sharing this!

    Last year around March I watched a Netflix show called 13 Reasons Why.

    It changed my life!

    My eldest is 9, but I started looking at the teen youth in my church and consciously reached out, and began tutoring and mentoring… I know for a fact one didn’t commit suicide because “someone” listened…

    1. Jill, I’m thinking that would be better defined as cognitive behavioral therapy. Learning effective ways to cope. Learning is cognitive and ways to cope are behavior. It’s the only type of treatment I would personally recommend.

      1. I used cognitive behavioral counseling with a lot of my clients when I was still doing counseling. Many ppl are skeptical at first but it really does help if you learn new coping skills and APPLY them. They are skills that can be individualized to any age group and can be anything from talking to journaling to going fishing to meditation. The most important factor is that the individual USE the skills after they determine they are helpful. The skills can be used in coping with depression, anger, sadness, addiction and even pain. Everyone could use a little CBT in their lives.

  3. Great article. Do you have a print only version without all the graphics and videos? That would be greatly appreciated. I hope to pass the article on to parents at our school – giving all credit to you of course.

  4. Love the article! I agree with and do most all of what you are recommending, but I was hoping to be able to print it for my teenage boys so they could see that it is not just their crazy mother that is pushing this idea. However, the only option you have is for me to send it to them electronically….no “Print” button. Seems a bit contrary to what this is about. I will try to copy and print and hope that it works. My boys spend more time than I would like on devices be it phones, Xbox, computer, etc so we are always having to revisit this…. It is also very hard to get them to understand why we want them to do something else….I think their life depends on it more than we realize.

  5. Wow… so many important and essential tools in raising emotionally healthy confident children. I was very impressed by the guidance in your article. Thank you!

  6. Is it possible to print the article without all the ads and extras? Especially the idea list of “So What Can We Do About It?” I am an elementary technology teacher and think this could be valuable information to share with parents. Although I love using technology as a tool for learning, creating, and sharing ideas it is important to notice how it has impacted our daily lives.
    Thank you!

  7. I teach 4th grade and I’m seeing more social-emotional needs from our students. They are seeking so much attention at school because I believe they don’t get it at home. It’s not just our students that come from poverty it’s all kids. I’m guilty of checking my phone, e-mails, seesaw, google classroom at night when my kids are home but I try and not do anything from 4-8:30. I’m also a classroom with one to one iPads but we use our iPads as an educational tool not a babysitter. In fact, I have one math game on my student iPads. I loved your article and want to share with my parents because it’s becoming so scary and we as teachers can’t teach the academic part and social-emotional.

  8. Really great article! I really love what you wrote:

    “If you are every feeling sad or left out about something and it becomes too big for you to handle easily, come to me. I want you to know that if you ever hurt yourself, you would be hurting your whole family. My happiness would go away with yours.”

    It’s a very simple, yet powerful message. It’s hard to imagine where these stats will be when my two year old is a tween.

  9. This article is very good. What l find a is a great way to overcome some of this. I find getting kids involved in sports or other activities helps with the technology phase. My kids and now my grandkids are involved in sports and other activities so instead of constantly being on a phone or Ipad. My grandkids would rather be outside than in the house because of their other activities. I know this isn’t something that all kids will do but it is one way to keep kids from being in the house and isolated. Parents need to be aware of their children and know their different moods and that will help them. My grandkids also hate bullies and they would be the first ones to stand up for the child being bullied.

  10. Add on to the list of what to do about it-spend time outside! Nature is an amazing prevention and cure!

  11. I saw a woman carrying a two year old and talking on the phone. She said, do you want talk (to who she was talking to.) The child said, No Mommy, I want to talk to YOU.

  12. I would say that the first two graphs could have something to do with the now infamous no Child left behind act which started in 2002, requiring children to accomplish more and more homework than they ever have in history. This is also when childhood rates of depression and suicide started drastically increasing. The third graph, about children feeling lonely, could also have something to do with their parents being on their phones so much and ignoring them. I propose that the answer to these problems lies in focusing less on how technology is ruining our children’s lives to focusing more on the critical importance of parents being more present for their children combined with letting children have more freedom, autonomy, and control over their own lives.

    1. I completely agree (parents on electronics & lack of free-time for kids) that those would have a huge contributing factor.

    2. I think you’re onto something with the autonomy and control idea! I was homeschooled for several years, and I was stunned as I watched my friends and peers in public schools live days (and lives, really) that were totally planned out by someone else. Starting about when I was in 9th grade, I sat down with my mom and determined what classes I needed to take each semester to get accepted to NC State or a comparable college (which I later was). My other classes were largely up to me, and I designed self-study programs in art, music, and physical education. The upshot? When I got to college, I was already prepared to plan my own schedule, manage my time, and chart my course. Now, working as a community journalist at 20 years old, I’m completely comfortable scheduling my work, interacting with professionals and government and law enforcement officials decades older than myself on a daily basis, and handling responsibility with little day-to-day supervision.

  13. I love your reminder about letting them have unstructured time and time to become bored. However, I struggle with a polite way to tell my daughter to “go play by herself.” If there’s one thing I feel guilty about, it’s when I tell her she needs to go play. If I’m not entertaining her or allowing her to watch TV, she is completely on top of me/underfoot and getting into everything she’s not supposed to. She does not play well by herself, and I always feel “mean” after I ask her to go play by herself.. Any tips? Or other ways to relay the message?

    1. It is hard & I often feel guilty, too, but I say “I’m going to do (laundry, the dishes)… why don’t you go play with your princesses (she has a princess castle that she loves) and when we’re both done, we can go on a ___ (walk, on the swings).”

      1. What about asking your child to help you with whatever chore you’re involved in? “I would love to have you help me sort the laundry/unload the dishwasher/set the table!” Then after you finish the chore take 5-10 minutes to do something chosen by the child (we like to read a book). I’ve discovered little jobs that each of our children like/don’t mind doing this way. I love that we can chat while accomplishing something that needs to be done. My six year old loves to wipe down cabinets, counters, etc. She can work on that while I chop veggies for dinner. We also have some easy-to-get-out-and-clean-up art projects that the kids can sit at the counter and do while I make dinner, pay bills, etc. (Perler beads are a fave around here!).

  14. Great article now go onto the Melissa and Doug website. We have a Take Back Childhood mission. Read about our mission it sounds very similar to what your talking about. Melissa is very passionate about our mission and has a blog written about what’s happening to the children of today and the toys we manufacture to help children! Our hope is we can bring back childhood the way it used to be and that parents understand boredom is actually a good thing in a child’s life.

    1. I have always wondered about the influences of day care, both parents working, unlimited TV, no rules, now constant messaging even when the kids are within talking distance. Speaking of distance, that is what has become of our children-they are being distanced from all that is human feelings. Now I have the answer and it is unsettling and predictable.

      1. Betty…two parent working families does not mean umlimited electronics and no rules. And daycare was wonderful for my extremely extroverted kid. We were lucky to have some balance with me working part time, but it is entirely possible to have good family values with working parents.