Depression is growing in Generation Z. The Journal of Abnormal Psychology found that depression rates of 12-17 year-olds increased from 8.7% to 13.2% between 2009 and 2017. One factor causing this is the teen’s tendency to replace in-person interactions with virtual ones, a habit only escalated by the pandemic. This replacement falls short of face-to-face interactions since people tend to be less transparent, especially on social media, going no deeper than the surface.

Social media makes people feel left out rather than connected. It encourages comparison and envy. Teens use it to show off how their fun times with friends, making other teens feel left out. The irony of it is the poster may feel just as lonely as the viewer. Many social media posts exaggerate how much of a good time the poster is having, sometimes going so far as to turn a miserable experience into an apparent paradise. In this way, social media can become a competition to see who can appear to be having the most fun. The various posts create a false reality that the real world will always seem inadequate next to, leaving people, especially teens, unsatisfied.

How Can Literature Help?

Teen’s time spent on social media is increasing while time spent reading is decreasing, according to the American Psychological Association. The lack of reading may be a factor is this generation’s loneliness. Good literature provides relatable characters going through relatable struggles, serving as a reminder to the reader to they are not alone. Just like friendship, which C. S. Lewis describes as the “moment when one man says to another ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…,’ fiction breaks down the lie that no one else understands you. Although literature cannot replace true friendship, it can help elevate loneliness, unlike social media which tends to promote it.

Time spent alone reading can deepen the social interactions that teens still do have. Reading gives people the chance to discuss the book with others, not only giving them another thing in common with the other person, but also allowing them to discuss the deeper questions the book raised. And these ideas can carry over into conversations with those who have not read the book. Therefore, a book that stimulates the mind will also stimulate conversation, making teens’ social interactions more satisfying. A study from the Social Indicators Research journal confirms this theory, finding that “reading books… is one of the most important predictors for the number of close relationships an individual has. People who read apparently have more close contacts they can talk to about important matters.” Reading both comforts the individual and strengthens their friendships, showing that today’s teens would be less lonely if they put down their phone and picked up a book.


Photo by Toni Birrer