May 8th, 2019
ACPeds Parent Talk

Keeping parents up to date on the latest news in child and teen health
Declning State of Adolescent Mental Health
Nearly 1 in 7 US kids and teens has a mental health condition, and half go untreated, according to a recent study .
Clearly, more and more American children are suffering from poor mental health--and there are multiple culprits to blame.
The Culprits
Excessive Exposure to the Media

A recent study showed that the popular Netflix show for teens and young adults called 13 Reasons Why may be contributing to the decline in teen mental health as the show has been linked to a 30% increase in suicide rates among US youth ages 10-17 . The show follows the life and death of a teenage girl who kills herself as a result of bullying at school and portrays a graphic scene in which the girl literally kills herself on screen in the final episode of the 1st season. Prior research has already established that “exposure to graphic, sensationalized, highly detailed, or simplified portrayals of suicide can result in copycat suicide attempts and deaths by suicide, particularly in teens and young adults."

A favorite past time for children and adults alike, social media is also associated with poor mental health in children as studies suggest that social media use is linked to an increase in depression among teens.
The Decline of the Nuclear Family

Another factor is the rapidly changing family structure in American families. According to a Pew Research study , the share of US children living with an unmarried parent has more than doubled since 1968, jumping from 13% to 32% in 2017. This same study also showed that as divorce rates increase, more than 20% of children born within a marriage will experience a parental breakup by age 9, as will more than half of children born within a cohabiting union. Unfortunately, research suggests that children raised by single parents are more than 40% more likely to have a mental health problem than children with two parents at home.
Increasing Rates of Substance Abuse

As marijuana continues to be legalized across the United States, more teens seem to believe that the drug is harmless or safer than other street drugs. According to the recent Monitoring the Future survey , 25% of U.S. high school seniors would try marijuana or use it more often if it was legal , which is the highest rate in the 43-year history of the Monitoring the Future survey. While teens may assume that the drug is safe because it’s legal, research says otherwise as teen marijuana use is associated with a higher likelihood of depression later on .
Vaping or using e-cigarettes is also increasing in popularity among US teens. Once again, teens assume that vaping is a safer alternative to cigarettes, but one e-cigarette cartridge has the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. Because of these high nicotine levels, vaping is extremely addictive — and research shows that teens are already more susceptible to addiction than adults because their brains are still developing.
What can parents do to reverse the trend?

Monitor your child's screen time. Limit time spent watching TV, surfing the internet, and scrolling through Facebook and other social media platforms. Instead, encourage time outdoors.  Research shows that a daily outdoor walk could be as effective as taking antidepressant drugs for treating mild to moderate depression.

Eat together as a family as often as possible . Research shows that teens with more frequent family meals had fewer emotional and behavioral problems, were more trusting and had more helpful behaviors toward others, and had higher life satisfaction regardless of family economics.

Take care of yourself and your marriage . Studies show that children whose parents divorce have higher rates of psychological distress and mental illness. Yet children living with married biological parents have been shown to experience more healthful measures of thriving as infants, physical and mental health, educational attainment, protection from poverty, protection from antisocial behavior, and protection from physical abuse.

Talk to your kids about substance abuse . Children whose parents have regular conversations about the dangers of substance abuse early on are less likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol, research shows.

Spend quality time with your children. Research shows that individuals who had depression, anxiety and detachment behaviors had previously experienced detached childhood relationships with their parent(s).

Ultimately, the best thing you can do to prevent your child from experiencing depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts is to be involved in your child's life, protect your child's mind from negative influences and to monitor your child's activities on and offline, regardless of age. Your oversight and wise advice are greatly needed!

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