Social Media & Youth Mental Health
Let’s create a healthy online experience for kids.
From the latest CDC reports to all-too-frequent school shootings and teen suicide statistics, the heartbreaking decline in youth mental wellness screams from the headlines – and whispers in our homes – almost daily.
The loneliness and isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent school shutdowns brought the issue to the forefront, but the truth is that child and adolescent depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation have been on the rise for years. And many mental health professionals are talking about a different cause.
According to Dr. Leana S. Wen, a professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, “the clearest correlation is between smartphone and social media use and mental distress, self-injuring behavior and suicidality.”
Jean M. Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, agrees. She cites multiple studies that show “the increases in mental health issues among teens began in the early 2010s” …the same time that teen smartphone use became the norm.
Local school districts are even taking notice…and taking on social media platforms in the courts. According to the Washington Post, multiple lawsuits from school districts across the country – including those in Oregon, California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Florida – contend that “Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube have helped create the nation’s surging youth mental health crisis and should be held accountable.”
San Mateo County, home to 23 school districts in Northern California, recently filed a suit in federal court alleging that “social media companies used advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning technology to create addictive platforms that cause young people harm.”
The State of Utah recently took action by passing two bills designed to protect children. One requires social media companies to verify users’ ages; the other instates a curfew: Unless parents grant permission, kids under 18 won’t be able to access their accounts from 10:30 PM to 6:30 AM — the hours when kids should be sleeping.
How can parents intervene?
While the court cases and policy decisions play out, there are specific actions parents and caregivers can take today to protect kids and help ensure that their online experience is as healthy as possible. Each platform offers its own version of parental controls…but you have to know where to look.
The video streaming platform offers age-restricted features, including limits on direct messaging, live streams, and nighttime notifications, and making younger teens’ accounts private by default for younger teens. In addition, expert resources like suicide prevention and eating disorder helplines are also directly reachable from the app. Through its Family Pairing feature, parents and caregivers can also control things like content, privacy and screen time.
This Google-owned streaming app offers similar safety features for minors, including defaulting uploads to “private,” and well-being reminders for breaks and bedtime. Through controls like YouTube Kids, its Family Link app, and more, parents can also set reminders, limit screen time, and block certain types of content on kids’ devices.
Instagram claims to have built-in safety protocols designed to identify and prevent harmful content – such as that which promotes suicide, self-harm, or eating disorders – from ever reaching kids under 18. It also incorporates age-verification technology and notifications for kids to take regular breaks. In addition, its Family Center allows parents to monitor content, set time limits and schedule breaks, and provides access to an education hub, where parents can find “resources from experts on building positive online habits with teens.”
The popular messaging platform claims to “curate content from known creators and publishers and use human moderation to review user generated content before it can reach a large audience.” It also offers a limited degree of parental monitoring through its still-developing Family Center.
YOU’RE NOT IN THIS ALONE.
Through our FREE, 12-lesson anti-bullying and peace-building program, “I Am” video challenge, and more, Heroes In Waiting is committed to supporting the mental health of children everywhere, and to empowering youth to be peace-builders in a changing world.