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Journal file

America’s children — especially girls — are killing themselves at unprecedented rates, studies show. They also are attempting suicide and hurting themselves far more often than in the past, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At the same time, more teens than ever — 73 percent in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center — have access to a smartphone.

So is there a correlation or is it a mere coincidence that teens who spend hours a day interfacing with their phones appear more likely to be depressed and at greater risk of harming themselves?

Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, believes the numbers paint a clear picture although no one has conclusively demonstrated yet that a dependence on social media poisons the brain.

But her research — gleaned from numerous studies — connects important dots as experts, counselors and now the Rapid City school district seek to understand why more youth are taking their own lives in order to save precious lives in the future.

First, some facts: From 2010 to 2015, the number of U.S. teens who felt useless and joyless jumped by 33 percent, teen suicide attempts went up 23 percent and the number of 13- to 18-year-olds who committed suicide increased by 31 percent, according to national studies. The CDC study shows sharp increases over the past 15 years in the number of girls from the ages of 10 to 18 who made emergency room visits after injuring themselves.

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Smartphone ownership, meanwhile, crossed the 50 percent threshold in 2012 and has been climbing ever since while becoming a seemingly indispensable part of our existence, especially for teens and young adults. According to Twenge, some teens spend more than five hours a day on their smartphone, making them socially isolated and more likely to become victims of cyberbullying, shaming and sexual harassment. Then there is social media envy — why do they have more than me?

While these studies don't necessarily prove a link between smartphone excess and a spike in suicides and attempts, parents need to be aware these devices could be planting the seeds of disaster in immature and still developing minds.

Parents should set strict limits on smartphone use, monitor social media habits and require their children to have more real-life interactions. They, as role models, may also need to curtail their smartphone use, as well. These important steps should be accompanied by what could be called the 21st century version of the "birds and the bees" talk.

Smartphone dependence is likely not just a trend. It is a habit that can take your children away or hijack their future. Don't stand on the sidelines and let that happen to your eternal regret.

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