Maybe you came of age during the bobby socks, soda fountain, and juke box era, or perhaps your teen years came during the big hair, neon clothes, MTV period. Maybe you rocked on during the hippie 70s or grunged out in the 90s. No matter your age or taste in music, your parents might have fretted about your listening habits or how much TV you watched.
Parents of kids these days have a lot more to worry about. Teenagers now have practically every song ever recorded, every tv show ever made, in their pockets. With a few clicks, they can access anything and everything. They also have social media apps like TikTok, SnapChat, Instagram, and Discord commanding, even demanding, their attention. And the grown-ups are extra worried.
In May, United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released an advisory on the mental health crisis amongst adolescents and its potential relationship to social media.
His advisory mentions some shocking statistics: “Social media use by youth is nearly universal. Up to 95% of youth ages 13–17 report using a social media platform, with more than a third saying they use social media “almost constantly.” Although age 13 is commonly the required minimum age used by social media platforms in the U.S., nearly 40% of children ages 8–12 use social media.”
Despite the fact that “everybody’s doing it,” we don’t know exactly what the effects are of the ubiquitous use of social media. The advisory cites the concerns of a huge group of people about the effect of social media on the mental health of adolescents, including researchers, parents and caregivers, young people, and healthcare experts.
What is clear is that adolescents are in a mental health crisis, with instances of suicidal ideation, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, extreme anxiety and depression, and self-harm on the rise.
In addition to families, school districts bear the brunt of this mental health crisis. Not only are they dealing with constant classroom disruptions, but they are also providing unprecedented rates of mental health support, which is expensive, and, alas, sometimes political. Social media companies are making money hand over fist, while families and schools are spending an egregious amount of money to try to respond to the negative effects of social media use.
Social media is not all bad, of course, but when the company’s algorithm constantly leads a healthy teenager to sites about binging and purging or obsessively exercising, damage can be done. Social media companies should be ensuring that children are safe online, and they’re often not doing that.
Please let us know if your family or someone you know has been adversely affected by social media use.