Social media and smartphones aren't the reason for declining levels of happiness among teens, said writer and researcher Alexandra Samuel in JSTOR Daily.
Distracted parenting is.
The Atlantic reported in September that depression has "skyrocketed" among teenagers since 2011 and smartphones are to blame.
But Samuel countered that argument, stating that there had to be more to the conclusion.
"Teens report near identical levels of happiness regardless whether they're on the higher or lower end of social media usage," she said. "If social media isn't making kids depressed, then where's the crisis?"
Turning to the years 2005 to 2009, Samuel researched what she called "the introduction to the iPhone" in her article to see how it impacted social media usage at the time.
"Yes, teen social media usage continued to grow during this time, but at the same steady rate as usage grew among older Americans," she said. "The fastest growth during that time was among young adults (18-29) and 30-to-49-year-olds. One year before the iPhone, only 6 percent of people aged 30-to-49 were on social networks. By 2009, that had leapt up to 44 percent: that's absolutely explosive growth."
Parents may be using social media for professional reasons, said Samuel. Or perhaps they just want a few moments of distraction from reality. But smartphones tend to distance parents from their children, she said. As a result, kids grow despondent, less independent and tend to abuse technology.
"It's time for us to consider another possible explanation for why our kids are increasingly disengaged," Samuel said. "It's because we've disengaged ourselves; we're too busy looking down at our screens to look up at our kids."
Instead of restricting teens' use of technology, Samuel encouraged parents to mentor their children on how to use it wisely in a digital age.
"My own research suggests that the best way we can do that is by embracing our role as digital mentors: actively encouraging our kids to use technology, but offering ongoing support and guidance in how to use it appropriately.
"Mentoring your kids means letting go of a one-size-fits-all approach to kids' tech use, and thinking instead about which specific online activities are enriching (or impoverishing) for your specific child. Mentoring means talking regularly with your kids about how they can use the Internet responsibly and joyfully, instead of slamming on the brakes. Mentor parents recognize that their kids need digital skills if they're going to thrive in a digital world, so they invest in tech classes and coding camps. And of course, mentor parents embrace technology in their own lives—but thoughtfully, so they can offer guidance on the human (if not the technical) aspects of life online."