As teen suicide rises, is social media a factor?

Suicide rates for teenagers increased substantially from 2010 to 2015, at the same time use of social media by young people shot up. A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study hints the two phenomena may be linked.

It would be foolish to suggest, based on this one study, that social media is inherently dangerous. Clearly, much more needs to be learned about how the technology affects us in many ways.

Social media in all its forms amounts only to new ways of communicating, after all. That ought to be a good thing.

But even good things can be put to bad, sometimes positively evil, uses. We know of situations in which teenagers who committed suicide blamed their decisions on harassment via social media.

Still, more needs to be known about whether there is a link between use of social media and emotional turmoil so severe it leads a young person to take his or her life. If there is a solid link, more needs to be known about specific, effective methods of counteracting any pernicious influence.

What this new study should do is remind parents and guardians of children of the necessity to keep in touch with them, to encourage them to talk about their problems — all of them.

Teenagers were committing suicide long before social media or any other electronic mode of communication existed.

Before, however, their lives were more private. When they did something wrong or foolish, or someone did something wrong to them, not as many people knew about it. On one hand, that made bad deeds easier to hide, but it also meant teens didn’t feel haunted by a permanent digital trail and weren’t so exposed to the raw emotions people will type for all to read, but wouldn’t say in person.

There’s no going back in time as a society. Influence Central’s 2016 Digital Trends Study showed that the average child got his or her first smartphone at 10.3 years old and that by 11.4 years old, half of kids had a social media account.

For now, parents have good reason to, at the very least, advise their children not to post everything on social media, to treasure some degree of privacy and to make face-to-face communication more important than digital communication.

Ironically, the problem always has been failure to connect with other people on a meaningful personal level. The solution is the most effective, if sometimes difficult, method of communication ever invented. It is talking, face to face, between those in emotional turmoil and others who care about them.

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