Teen-aged girls are turning up in increased numbers for emergency treatment at hospitals because they have cut, burned, poisoned, or otherwise tried to harm themselves. This disturbing trend may be linked to the obsession by the young, especially girls ages 10 to 14, with smart phones and their aggressive online, but weak real world, social lives.
The data developed by researchers from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control also provide a serious warning about girls’ struggles to reach maturity because the rise in detected instances of self-harm also may signal increases in suicides—the No. 2 cause of death of young people ages 10 to 14.
Researchers say the negative numbers —most pronounced as an 18.8 percent increase in incidents of self-harm among girls ages 10 to 14 — affected young females most, with young males showing no major changes in comparable cases of cutting, poisoning, burning, or otherwise hurting themselves.
Based on other studies of the young during the period 2010 to 2015, experts said they do not think the rise in girls’ harming themselves could be traced to familiar factors, such as economic stress on families, or increased academic pressures (such as through stepped up testing or added homework). They knew, too, from other research that teen-agers were grappling with rising incidences of depression and suicide.
But the experts noted that, in 2012, statistics showed that half of American teens had begun to own smart phones. That’s exactly when depression and suicide began to rise suddenly.
Girls, the experts said, may be more susceptible to negative peer pressure, online shaming, and cyber bullying. Data show young girls, as compared to boys their age, adapt quickly and easily to new technologies, becoming huge fans and users of online apps and text messages.
Teens’ online lives may burgeon, even as they feel more isolated, alone, angry, frustrated, and misunderstood by peers, siblings, and parents and other adults in the flesh-and-blood world, experts say. This makes it harder still for young women to find the help and support they crave and need, leading them to self-destructive acts as a cry for help.
In my own practice, I see not only the major harms that patients can suffer while seeking medical services, I also see their heart-breaking struggles to access and afford needed medical care. That includes mental health services that in short supply and great need—for adults as well as the young.
Family life, of course, has become complex and challenging these days, and it won’t be easy for adults, parents especially, to reach out and to have some much needed (and appreciated) conversations with youngsters about learning how to make powerful, ubiquitous electronic devices serve us rather than us becoming their addicts and hapless captives.
Research shows that kids, in late childhood and early adolescence, undergo major brain and mental development, which, in part, requires a lot of good, restful sleep. Experts say too many youngsters aren’t getting this important brain-building time because they’re staying up too late, horsing around with electronics (including smart phones and electronic tablets, as well as various screens—such as the TV) with all their alluring diversions and entertainments.
It’s simply unacceptable that modern devices can be allowed to harm our kids or contribute to them harming themselves. Our youngsters need less streaming and more dreaming, and we need to help them get it.