Opinion | Why Are American Teens So Unhappy?

To the Editor:

Re “Teenage Despair and Smartphones,” by Ross Douthat (column, Feb. 19):

No, Mr. Douthat, it’s not my iPhone that’s causing my teenage misery. No, it’s that three students at Michigan State had their lives cut short last month. It’s that in the many states that ban abortion, the law says I have no control over my own body.

It’s that in January, I watched a video of Tyre Nichols getting beaten to death with the knowledge that this was far from the first incident like this, and also that it would not be the last, because nothing in this country ever seems to change.

For me and many of my friends, it’s the fact that we care so much that leads to our despair.

Please talk to a few teenagers before writing a column about us. We have plenty to say.

Talia Winiarsky
Evanston, Ill.
The writer is a freshman at Northwestern University.

To the Editor:

Ross Douthat writes often thoughtful, insightful columns, and I don’t disagree that smartphones are a dangerous presence in the hands of teenagers.

However, as an atheist, I resent his front-loaded religious orthodoxy. When he analyzes the problems with “social liberalism” and the consequent despair of teenagers, phrases like “rapid secularization” and “weak attachments to religion” imply that without religion, teenagers will be susceptible to all the evils of social media.

With absolutely no religious basis for our moral convictions, my husband and I raised two daughters, who were teenagers in the early 2010s, and whose lives are defined by their desire to make a difference in the world. I am proud to say they are leading lives of meaning, involvement and compassion.

Belief in any kind of God or religion has had nothing to do with their choices, nor mine.

Charlotte Kreutz
Jersey City, N.J.

To the Editor:

Why must an adult man tell the tale of being an American teenage girl? Is it not enough for us to tell our own stories and share our insights about why we are so “miserable”? Because, quite frankly, I do not think we are.

I would not use Ross Douthat’s words to define the last 15 years of my life.

Yes, religion is a comfort for some people. Family is a comfort for some people. However, finding your people in the vast multitude of internet users is sometimes more compelling to my generation when we seek to bond with others.

My generation must not be seen as narcissistic, hostile and only socially liberal. Those words already deepen the fractures in American society. Instead, let us teens tell our stories. Maybe you will learn something from us.

Siyeon Joo
Lafayette, La.
The writer is a high school sophomore.

To the Editor:

I fundamentally disagree with Ross Douthat’s argument that the promotion of “rapid secularization” through social media has made young people miserable. As a teenager myself, I present a different argument: Social media has made us forget how to be bored.

My parents put a strict time limit on technology throughout my elementary and middle school years — one hour a day, much to my dismay — but this limit prompted me to stare at the ceiling and figure out something to do. Looking back on it, these periods of boredom were some of my most formative experiences.

I recently logged out of all my social media accounts, having read (and been a bit inspired by) a Dec. 18 Sunday Styles article about the group of sans-smartphone teenagers — “Luddites.” Now, on my train rides home from school, I read the news or some pieces about my favorite soccer teams. Sometimes, I take off my headphones and sit in silence.

I’ve discovered that boredom is pleasant, despite what my social-media-scrolling self from six months ago would have thought. I’m a lot less miserable than I was then, too.

Anya Weerapana
Wellesley, Mass.

To the Editor:

The healing balm for the toxicity of social media use in the young is a simple act but not an easy one. It is to step outside, take in the sky, breathe in the fragrance of the day, tune in to the trees, and walk or run around. It is simple because it is free and available to anyone, but difficult because it requires the young person to put down his cellphone.

One of the ways Japanese people promote emotional well-being is in their notion of “shinrin-yoku,” or “forest bathing,” a walking meditation among trees. Experts in the care of children have been saying for some time that one of the causes of increased anxiety in children is a decreasing connection to the natural world. We are all part of nature’s life force. Cutting ourselves off from its sustenance dehydrates the spirit.

Margaret McGirr
Greenwich, Conn.

To the Editor:

Re “Don’t Let Politics Cloud Your View of Teen Depression,” by Michelle Goldberg (column, Feb. 25):

Ms. Goldberg is surely correct when she points out that teens’ obsession with social media is a contributing cause for depression. She supports her view by presenting the work of psychologists like Jean Twenge who have studied the effects of social media on teens’ mental health.

However, it is not the social media messages alone that are damaging teens’ mental health. Teens’ obsession with social media places them alone in front of phone and computer screens for many hours during the day — hours that used to be spent on athletic fields, at shopping malls, in movie theaters, at club meetings.

Activities that involved interaction with other teens have been replaced by being alone in front of a screen, which is unhealthy.

James Tackach
Narragansett, R.I.
The writer is a professor of English at Roger Williams University.

To the Editor:

I have raised a daughter, now 18, in a very blue city, and this is what I see her generation confront — from pop culture, commerce and political movements, from parents and peers, all of it amplified on social media:

Pressure to eat too little. Pressure to eat too much. Pressure to establish sexual identity. Pressure to take drugs, both prescription and street. Pressure to flaunt their bodies, and to work out to excess. Pressure on girls to be enraged at teenage boys who inevitably peek at their bodies. Confusion for boys whose ideas of sexuality can be warped by violent pornography online. Pressure to cancel one another (in the name of tolerance). The list goes on.

When it got really upsetting for her, my daughter closed her social media accounts. She was much happier.

The Trump years, incidentally, had a perhaps surprising effect on liberal teens. Many of them joined protests over guns, women’s rights, social/racial justice and climate change. These were large and maybe depression-inducing issues to deal with, but the activism around them gave young people a sense of purpose, community and commitment to something beyond themselves.

I admire these teens for getting through all this.

Frances Anderton
Santa Monica, Calif.

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