Last week, a CDC report, “Youth Risk Behavior Survey” dropped. It shows devastating levels of depression in young people, particularly young women. A great many people, predominantly middle-aged white men as far as I can see, have hastened to tell us that it’s all because of those newfangled phones.
There might just be a few other things that might depress young women.
- Getting into the right college and its costs
- Climate change
- Gun violence
- A pandemic that is not being dealt with
- Rising fascism
- A future in which it is unlikely they will be financially secure
- Increasing numbers of laws taking away their bodily autonomy
- Laws persecuting trans and gay people, soon to come to the rest of us
- A government of old people
- Sexual violence against them
- The opioid crisis
- A sense that their concerns are not being heard; those same middle-aged men gaslighting them
- One of our two political parties dedicated to preventing any solutions to these problems
And young women are not the only ones depressed these days. Adults are too. Faine Greenwood collected a number of links in a Twitter thread that starts here. It was part of an all-day conversation on February 20 that I was part of.
What could be causing this? It is indeed a mystery, perhaps to be solved by the application of charts and divination.
The middle-aged white men have graphs in hand, with inflection points at what they believe to be landmarks of cellphone use. But which landmarks? When cellphone use reached a certain percentage of teenage girls? When MySpace started? Facebook? Twitter? TikTok? And how long did it take any of those to be widely used?
Similar questions can be asked about any of the bullet points above. When did they start? Are girls depressed by them? How could we tell? But these men have graphs that definitively, in their minds, point to cellphones and social media as the culprits.
Washington Post did a whole article on the theme of social media causing girls’ depression. It claims to privilege girls’ voices and contains a number of quotes from girls, but I have to wonder how the interviews were structured and the girls chosen. Few of the factors I’ve listed were considered.
The focus on cellphones and social media as primary factors in girls’ depression hinges on an assumption that girls are flighty things who are interested only in their physical presentation and popularity with boys. Same as it always was.
And middle-aged men magically find causation in correlation. Same as it always was.
Getting away from all that subjectivity, Kevin Drum actually graphs the numbers in the CDC report.
The graph shows inflection points for some groups at 2017 and 2019. Social media were around long before then. As long as we’re putting forth our own explanations without much support, I’ll point out that 2017 was when the horrible reality of Donald Trump as president became actual. And either date, or both, could represent some straw that, on top of the other reasons for depression, became too much.
What came along with Trump’s presidency and, it seems to me, has been steadily getting worse, is a plethora of white men telling the rest of us what we think. With any news development, their voices are all over Twitter with ignorant hot takes and replies. They’re all over media too, the opinion page of the New York Times being one example. Last fall it started getting me down, culminating with the January/February issue of the Atlantic featuring mostly middle-aged white men, one of which provided the worst take on T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” ever.
And now we have chatbots that replicate mansplaining, inventing sources, and generally behaving like those men, developed (of course) by those men to flood out other discourse. It’s depressing.
Blaming teen depression on social media allows people to ignore all those other factors that we should be addressing. And if the girls answer back, well, maybe it’s even their fault.
Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner