Ethical Considerations for Mental Health Clinicians Working with Adolescents in the Digital Age (2018)

Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2018 Oct 13;20(12):113. doi: 10.1007/s11920-018-0974-z.

Sussman N1, DeJong SM2.



Adolescents’ use of digital technologies is constantly changing and significantly influences and reflects their mental health and development. Technology has entered the clinical space and raises new ethical dilemmas for mental health clinicians. After an update on this shifting landscape, including a brief review of important literature since 2014, this article will demonstrate how core ethical principles may be applied to clinical situations with patients, using vignettes for illustration.


The vast majority of adolescents (95%) across all demographic groups can access smartphones (Anderson et al. 2018•). Technology use in mental health is also expanding, including a proliferation of “apps.” While qualitative data from technology experts reports overall positive effects of technology (Anderson and Rainie 2018), concern about its potential negative impact on youth mental health remains high, and an association between technology use and depression is strong. Internet addiction, online sexual exploitation, and accessing illicit substances through the “dark net” pose additional clinical and legal concerns. In this context, clinicians have an ethical responsibility to engage in education and advocacy, to explore technology use with teen patients and to be sensitive to ethical issues that may arise clinically, including confidentiality, autonomy, beneficence/nonmaleficence, and legal considerations such as mandated reporting. New media and digital technologies pose unique ethical challenges to mental health clinicians working with adolescents. Clinicians need to stay abreast of current trends and controversies about technology and their potential impact on youth and engage in advocacy and psychoeducation appropriately. With individual patients, clinicians should watch for potential ethical dilemmas stemming from technology use and think them through, with consultation as needed, by applying longstanding core ethical principles.

KEYWORDS: Adolescent psychiatry; Digital ethics; Internet; Mental health; Social media; Technology

PMID: 30317406

DOI: 10.1007/s11920-018-0974-z