Turn off your computer and cellphone, and regain your sanity.
How did daily life go so awry in the world’s richest nation? How is it that this planet’s most progressive country has so much misery inside its borders and its children’s heads?
American teenagers are in a mental health crisis that makes it easy for social media bullies to abuse them with negative and insulting judgments about their physical appearances and much more.
The state of Utah, as well as online service provider Verizon, hope to change things for the better. More on them later.
The Center for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed 42% of high school students report persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, and 22% say they seriously considered committing suicide in 2021.
Yes, social media has many benefits. But it’s also undermining teens’ mental health. Young people in particular have embraced these platforms to stay connected with friends and family, sharing their thoughts and experiences, and staying updated on current events.
The U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says that he believes 13 is too young for children to be on social media platforms.
Recent research suggests that these platforms are negatively impacting their mental health, harming their self-esteem, giving tormentors the ability to insult them with physical comparisons, cyberbullying and sleep deprivation.
Spending too much time on social media platforms can lead to addiction. The overall motivation even has its own word: FOMO, which is the Fear Of Missing Out.
Social media algorithms have utilized their power to relentlessly target teens and all of us.
Instagram and Snapchat, in particular, are filled with images of people that appear to have perfect lives, bodies and relationships. The constant exposure to idealized images leads young people to develop unrealistic expectations about their appearances and personal lives. This may result in feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and negative body image.
Research has shown that individuals who spend a lot of time on social media are more likely to experience body dissatisfaction and to demonstrate eating disorders.
A recent study conducted by The National Eating Disorders Association found that 70% of young people who use social media report seeing images that make them feel bad about their body image. Sixty percent report that social media has impacted their self-esteem. This is particularly found among young women, who often are bombarded with images of thin, attractive models perpetuating the idea they must look a certain way to be considered beautiful and desirable.
To address the mental health crisis associated with social media use by teenagers requires a multifaceted approach.
• Adults need to examine their own behavior and what they’re modeling for their kids: Is it a positive or negative picture?
• Parent involvement with education. Parents play a crucial role in guiding their children’s social media messages. We must provide parents with resources and education on the potential risks to help them establish healthy boundaries for their teenagers.
• We need more school-based intervention. Schools play a critical role in implementing social media guidelines.
• Peer-to-peer support — encouraging teenagers to support one another in following healthy social media guidelines. Peer-led initiatives can include mentorship programs, group discussions and online support groups.
• Government and policy interventions by both the state and federal governments. They can and should legislate guidelines that promote online safety and regulate social platforms while maintaining First Amendment protections. This can include age restrictions, which are part of the Utah initiative, and better monitoring of social media content.
• Collaboration with social media platforms to develop and promote guidelines can be an effective way to reach teenagers.
• Strategies for preventing mental health issues include open communication that promotes dialogue between parents, educators and teenagers in order to set healthy boundaries. They also include promoting a balanced lifestyle that includes physical exercise, hobbies and in-person social interaction.
So how did Utah and Verizon find a place in this tome?
Well, Verizon is a service provider that takes all of this seriously.
It has provided services that can help parents use more types of control of their kids’ social media usage.
These include filters and blocking tools, which limit access to certain websites, words and images. Verizon also offers the blocking of outgoing content to prevent unauthorized purchases and information sharing.
The carrier also offers tools that limit screen time, and also enable parents to remotely block their children’s devices. It also provides monitoring tools for online activity, text messages and more.
Here’s how Utah is taking the lead among states to help improve social media and not let it harm its young people.
Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, signed two bills into law in March that would “impose sweeping restrictions on kid and teen use of social media apps such as Instagram and TikTok — a move proponents say will protect youth from the detrimental effects of internet platforms,” writes The Washington Post.
One law makes social media companies verify that users in Utah are over the age of 18. The bill also requires parental consent before allowing minors to use such services. A default curfew can also be set.
“Utah’s leading the way in holding social media companies accountable — and we’re not slowing down anytime soon,” Cox said.
More states should follow Utah’s example to alleviate the damage social media has done to our children’s mental health.
Jim Martin can be reached at email@example.com.