Doctors Worry About Adolescents' Increased Social Media Use During Pandemic

Wednesday, January 26th 2022, 10:50 pm

A problem during the pandemic: a rise in mental and physical issues related to too much screen time.

Medical professionals are especially noticing more children dealing with issues.

Pediatricians said they're seeing everything from increases in anxiety and depression, to difficulties with sleeping and concentration, and even teens developing verbal and physical tics.

Social media use increased greatly during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Pew Research Center finds many of us spent COVID lockdown in front of a screen.

The center said 90 percent of Americans admit the internet has been essential or important to them during the pandemic; 40 percent reported using technology in new ways.

Several studies posted by the National Library of Medicine show a significant increase in the number of patients, teen girls particularly, experiencing tics.

Before the pandemic, the sudden onset of unexplained tics accounted for roughly one percent of total tic disorder cases. However, a study in August of 2021 found that they now make up nearly 35 percent.

Neurologists believe videos from TikTok creators who have Tourette Syndrome might be connected to the rise.

Doctor Dustin Rosenhamer said the tics are real, but should not be confused with actual Tourette's.

Tourette Syndrome is most common in boys, which begs the question; why are these tics more common in girls?

Experts said depression and anxiety is more common in women.

Mayo Clinic reports women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression.

“Tics are just kind of an all-encompassing word for repetitive movements, verbalizations,” said Dustin Rosenhamer, Hillcrest General Neurologist. “They’re doing these motor movements or vocalizations that help them relieve some form of anxiety.”

Neurologists said teens watch videos and pick it up as a form of relief, which is a huge concern to them.

“It’s more of a kind of a coping mechanism for anxiety. What I’m guessing is they are watching these videos and seeing these other people having these movements that they use to cope with anxiety,” said Rosenhamer.

Rosenhamer said the first step is to eliminate any other diagnosis such as epilepsy, different brain injuries, and migraines, and then move to a more psychological evaluation.

Research shows cognitive behavioral therapy has seemed to help.

“Without a doubt, social media influences thinking and behavior, both physical and mental. And it’s related to a lot of different things,” said Dr. Teresa Horton with Utica Park Clinic in Owasso.

Teresa Horton, M.D., said it’s particularly related to the amount of time spent on social media, as well as a person’s personality and genetic makeup.

“If you start watching something cause you’re interested in it, catches your eye, the algorithms are gonna lead them to start sending more and more of those things your way,” said Dr. Teresa Horton.

Horton has seen a huge increase in depression, anxiety and sleep issues in pediatric patients.

“There’s a lot of instant gratification. You know, ‘I just saved the world. I’ve got a bunch of different things keeping my mind going. I don’t have to worry about my problems,’” said Horton.

She said this has to do with the time spent on social media, your personality and genetics.

She said to turn it off an hour before bed and balance it with outdoor activities.

“Because our brains need a variety of activities and stimulation just like our bodies need a variety of foods in order to maintain good mental health as well as good physical health,” said Horton.

Horton said screens cause information to come at us rapidly in all different directions.

“Having that information coming at you so rapidly and changing so rapidly, when you need to switch to where you actually need to spent time concentrating on something and putting a little extra effort into it and being persistent. It just makes it harder to do because our brains haven’t been exercised enough to do it,” said Horton.

Horton explains, it’s like being used to running a quick sprint and expecting to run a mile.

She said social media impacts the way we learn and how we are used to receiving information. It can impact school performance as well.

Body awareness and body image is influenced as well, according to Horton.

Other than limiting use and using cognitive behavioral therapy, Horton suggests having conversations with kids, watching what your kids are watching and discussing how to interpret it.

Horton said between the extensive use of the internet and all the other stresses that have come with the pandemic, she’s seen a significant increase in the number of pediatric patients who require a recommendation for counseling. She has prescribed much more medication to treat anxiety and depression.

Horton adds that it’s a lot harder to get in with therapists right now because of how busy they are.