social media addiction

Digital interactions have become central to our daily lives, especially for the younger generations. The pervasive use of social media among teenagers has led to growing concern about its impact on their mental health. Now, school boards, municipalities and parents across the country are taking social media companies to court in an effort to curb their influence on young minds. New York City is the latest to mount an offensive against social media, prompting many to question how these platforms affect our well-being.

Taking Social Media to Court

New York City announced a major move against social media companies in February, filing a lawsuit against TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube.

social media addiction

The lawsuit claims these platforms harm the mental health of young people, costing the city $100 million yearly for related health services. It has accused the companies of knowingly creating addictive platforms that cause serious damage to users.

This lawsuit coincides with heightened attention from media and lawmakers regarding the platforms’ impact on teenagers’ mental health and self-image. The city’s legal step is part of a broader push to make these companies responsible, calling to mind previous campaigns against other public health challenges with tobacco and guns.

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New York City is not the only entity taking social media to court. Dozens of states and hundreds of school boards across the country have filed cases, starting with Seattle over a year ago. They affirm that social media companies are knowingly fuelling a mental health crisis among youth with their intentionally addictive platform designs. Hundreds of parents are joining them in filing lawsuits for harm caused to their children.

The U.S. Surgeon General published guidance last year warning of the serious risks social media poses to kids and teens, calling for more research and action from both lawmakers and tech firms. The message is clear: we must make the digital world safer for our young people. But it’s also important to equip our children with the mental resilience needed to navigate the digital world safely.

Looking at the Bigger Picture

It is obviously time for us as a society to take a deeper look at how social media impacts our mental health. Given how much time the average teen spends using these platforms (4.8 hours a day) — not to mention the average adult (2.5 hours a day) — it is important to understand the effects they can have on our well-being.

Social media giant Meta has been accused of using algorithms intentionally crafted to tap into the dopamine-driven reward systems of young users, based on documents leaked by a whistleblower in 2021. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure and reward, which plays a crucial role in addiction. The design of these platforms allegedly exploits this biological mechanism, encouraging continual engagement by triggering these pleasure signals.

The dangers of such addictive designs have been linked to tragic consequences for teens, including a higher incidence of negative body image, low self-esteem, eating disorders, and suicide. Investigations into the suicide of a 14-year-old in the UK indicated that overexposure to social media content likely worsened her pre-existing depression. However, social media companies have denied responsibility, insisting that their products follow rigorous safety protocols.

Scientific research into social media’s influence has found both positive and negative effects on those who use the platforms regularly. Some highlight the beneficial aspects, such as social connections, peer support, and open discussion which can enhance mental well-being and foster a sense of belonging. However, other studies have found a correlation between heavy social media use and increased feelings of loneliness, decreased life satisfaction, and heightened anxiety.

The bigger picture indicates that while social media can be a positive source of social support, it’s important to be aware of its downsides, especially with overuse. Teaching young people about these risks and about how to use social media wisely is crucial to building a healthier, more positive online life.

Empowering Our Youth

What can we do to start empowering young people to take control of their mental health today? We don’t need to wait for new laws to be passed to begin improving our social media habits. Educating ourselves about safe online practices, discussing our online experiences, and encouraging open conversations about social media’s impact can empower users to navigate these platforms more wisely.

By creating an environment where mental health topics are openly discussed, we can destigmatize mental health issues and encourage young people to seek help when needed. These discussions can take place in various settings, from schools and homes to online communities, making it clear that it’s okay to talk about mental health struggles and seek support. Open dialogue can lead to greater empathy and community support, which are vital in building a supportive network for anyone facing mental health challenges.

In addition to promoting open conversations, building mental resilience is key to empowering young people to overcome difficult experiences. This involves teaching coping skills, such as stress management techniques, problem-solving, and emotional regulation, which can help them adapt to adversity and bounce back from difficult situations.

Encouraging healthy habits like regular physical activity, healthy eating, adequate sleep, and mindfulness practices can also strengthen mental resilience. If young people are equipped with the right tools and support, they can build their ability to navigate through tough times with strength and confidence. These are skills that will serve them throughout the rest of their lives.

Strategies for Parents: Building Mental Resilience and Healthy Online Habits

  • Limit time on social media to avoid overexposure and addictive behavior
  • Educate kids about the risks of social media and how the platforms are designed to keep them coming back for more
  • Start a conversation with your teenager about what kind of interactions they have on social media and how these make them feel
  • Discuss the lawsuits against social media with your teen and encourage them to think about different points of view on the issue
  • Promote a positive mindset in the face of negative experiences: “It’s ok, I don’t need that person in my life!” or “This hurts now, but I’ll get over it!”
  • Encourage teens to question what they’re seeing on social media
  • Take an active role in teaching your kids about mental health and healthy routines like sleep, exercise and diet
  • Find positive uses for social media — encourage teens to give supportive comments and share inspiring stories

In Conclusion

The recent lawsuits against social media platforms are groundbreaking, urging us to seriously consider the influence these platforms have on young people’s mental health. They challenge us to rethink our engagement with social media and demand meaningful changes from those who manage these platforms.

At the same time, these events underscore the need to actively build mental resilience and healthy habits that can counteract negative influences in our lives. Everyone has a role in shaping a future where social media supports rather than harms our mental health. Let’s seize this chance to advocate for a digital world that fosters positive connections and promotes mental well-being.