Is Social Media to Blame for Teens’ Depression?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

A recent study revealed that children who begin social media at age 10 are more likely to suffer from depression by the time they turn 15. So what exactly is it about social media that causes this depression? In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen describe what the effects social media has on a child’s psyche.


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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warriors Way Podcast. I'm Doctor Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain, to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.

Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warriors Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information visit

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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome back, today we're gonna talk about a topic that is just making parents crazy, and that is social media and children. There's a new study that links increased time spent on social media by 10-year-old girls to a decline in their well-being by the age of 15.

Tana Amen: So, I'm just curious, what social media are 10-year-old girls spending a lot of time on?

Dr Daniel Amen: You know, I think parents more and more are giving kids cell phones and iPads, and they're not doing a good job of putting parental controls on them. I just talked to parents of a 14-year-old boy and he and all of his friends are talking about porn.

Tana Amen: Oh no, no, no. That's no question within, by the time Chloe was in Junior high, 7th grade, all the boys had porn on their phones. That was like all the boys that she knew were walking around talking about porn and having stuff on their phones that was extremely inappropriate. But at 10, that's like two years before they get to Junior high. I admit, I had a phone for my daughter probably before most people give their kids phones for safety reasons, but there was no social media. There's was no, I'm confused why a 10-year-old would be on social media. Am I delusional on this? Do most kids [crosstalk 00:02:31]

Dr Daniel Amen: Oh, no, Facebook has a new app for children. And they say they have appropriate controls, but Facebook is like McDonalds.

Tana Amen: But why, but why? What are they doing on social media?

Dr Daniel Amen: Well, what they're doing is-

Tana Amen: That means they're socializing them to social media.

Dr Daniel Amen: They're going after your kids. The social media companies are going after your kids.

Tana Amen: And what is the purpose of that?

Dr Daniel Amen: So that they create lifelong consumers, if you will. I mean, what's the point of a Happy Meal? There's nothing happy about the Happy Meal. They're bribing kids to eat bad food with toys and with marketing directed at them.

Tana Amen: I guess I just don't get it. I don't get why-

Dr Daniel Amen: But the more time children, and adults, the more time they spend on social media, and I've been thinking recently about so why does it decrease your sense of well-being? And a long time ago-

Tana Amen: Oh my gosh. It seems obvious.

Dr Daniel Amen: Self-esteem. Self-esteem is where you think you are, compared-

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... to where other people are your age or in your environment. So if you are where you think your potential should be, you actually feel pretty good about yourself. But if you're way behind your peers, then you don't feel good about yourself. So, self-esteem is sort of the difference between where you are and what you think you should be.

Tana Amen: So to make it really simple, it's sort of how you compare yourself.

Dr Daniel Amen: How you compare yourself.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: And so, with Kim Kardashian and that whole thing-

Tana Amen: Don't get me started.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... everybody thinks they have the perfect life, and they have a lot of money, and they can buy all these designer clothes, and they go, "But look at me, I'm not perfect."

Tana Amen: By the way, neither are they.

Dr Daniel Amen: "I don't have the things that billionaire children have. And so, I'm not as good as other people."

Tana Amen: I'm not as pretty, I'm not as thin, I'm not as whatever it is, and they start doing that.

Dr Daniel Amen: And then you take girls in general-

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... who are more vulnerable to depression-

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... and more vulnerable to hating how they look. One study, now I don't know if it's a scientific study, I think it was like Glamour, but 93% of girls hated how they looked. Which is sort of funny, because we have this running joke at home, you will look in the mirror-

Tana Amen: Oh, yeah.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... and notice everything that's wrong.

Tana Amen: Oh, yeah. I'm like, "Wow, I have a new wrinkle today," or whatever. And then I look over and my husband every morning, every morning, he's over in the mirror looking at himself. He's like, "He's so cute. How do you keep your hands off of him?"

Dr Daniel Amen: I have no idea.

Tana Amen: I'm gonna make your ring tone, "Me Too." It's by Megan Trainor. If you haven't heard that song, you have to hear it. It's hilarious. So, yes. But back to what we were saying, 10% of nine-year-old girls have tried to make themselves throw up.

Dr Daniel Amen: Wow.

Tana Amen: It's because they think that they are, they don't like the way they look, they don't like their bodies, they think they're fat. So this is an epidemic.

Dr Daniel Amen: So, if you have a child, less time on their phone, less time on social media is so important.

Tana Amen: Yeah, and that makes sense. If you are thinking about this study, I mean, this was done on young girls, and young girls are probably the most vulnerable. But I don't care what age you are, I do social media as a business. And so, I come at it from a different perspective of trying to help people. I think if you're doing it from that perspective it's a little bit different. You actually gain some sense of purpose from that. But even at that, mostly what's on social media are problems. They're people's problems. Or like you said, you're comparing yourself to someone who has more than you, which by the way, almost everything on there is Photoshopped. They just did a thing on, Chloe was showing me on her Instagram, they busted all of these celebrities for their Photoshopped photos. And you can tell they're Photoshopped because they look one way, but the background behind them was distorted because of the Photoshopping. It's hilarious.

So even they don't look that perfect, and they don't like the way they look, right, so they are not even that perfect. But you're comparing yourself to images that are not even real. So of course you're gonna have a problem. And you're listening to other people's problems all day. So that's why it totally makes sense to me why this is an issue.

Dr Daniel Amen: And then if you look at it from a neuroscience perspective, the more time their face is buried in their phone, the less time they're actually having a discussion with their families, the less time they're outside in the sunshine, and so, they're gonna end up with vitamin D deficiency.

Tana Amen: Yeah.

Dr Daniel Amen: The less exercise they are getting. And these companies actually use neuroscience tricks to hook your pleasure centers. In my new book, Feel Better Fast and Make It Last, that's coming out in November, I actually talk about the pleasure centers a lot, and how important it is to protect them from this chronic squirt of dopamine.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: So, to like, "Oh, here, pay attention to me, pay attention to me, pay attention to me." Because over time, that actually wears out your pleasure centers-

Tana Amen: And you need more and more.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... and makes you more likely to get depressed.

Tana Amen: Or become an addict.

Dr Daniel Amen: Or become an addict.

Tana Amen: Right. And the other thing is, this is another issue that I was talking to my daughter about with social media, is that so much of her generation now, they don't know how to communicate with each other or be present. So my daughter brought this up to me. She said, "If you watch my generation, they don't know how to be uncomfortable." They don't know how to feel awkward. If there's five seconds of awkwardness, they bury their face in their phone. It's their escape. If they don't know what to say, rather than trying to think of something to say or learning how to communicate and work through it, they bury their face in their phone. So boys don't really know how to communicate with the girls at this age and vice versa, because they're doing everything over social media. So when they come face-to-face, it's just really awkward. So then they go on their phones. It's just weird. It's weirdness. It's really sad.

Dr Daniel Amen: You know, I noticed this maybe 10 years ago, that patients, my teenage patients would come in to see me, and their head's buried in their phone. And I am, "No, you have to turn that thing off or we are not going to accomplish what we need to accomplish, and we're gonna be wasting your parents' money. I'm not okay with that." And we had to fuss with them, because they were so glued, so addictive. So we think the cell phone was this major innovation, and in many ways-

Tana Amen: It was.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... in many ways, it is. But it can also cause-

Tana Amen: We just have to be careful. We need to be aware.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... serious problems in your life. So, be very careful with social media. Get them in the sun, get them exercising. It can make a radical positive difference in their lives.