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It’s hard to believe, but social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have been part of the pop culture mainstream for more than a decade. As a result, we’ve had plenty of time to see what impact social media has had on today’s teenagers who grew up with Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram as everyday parts of their lives. Unfortunately, the results have been mixed at best.
What is social media really doing to our youth?
On one hand, the teenagers of today are better connected, better informed, and probably more articulate than the teens of a generation ago. They are used to telling stories about their lives, and are very adept at knowing how to connect with online audiences. On the other hand, social media has seemingly had a devastating impact on the self-esteem and mental health of our youth, especially young teenage girls. A recent CBS News “60 Minutes” broadcast highlighted all the problems that today’s youth face when using social media, and to be honest, it was heartbreaking.
There is the relentless urge to find new likes and followers, of course. There is the constant Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). And there are all kinds of mental issues, ranging from depression to anxiety. In some cases, these mental issues can lead to health issues (such as anorexia and eating disorders), or even to attempted suicide. No girl – no matter how thin, beautiful or smart – seems to be immune to the pressures of social media. In short, social media seems to hyper-emphasize all the problems traditionally faced by teens, and then publicize them to the world.
Teens helping teens
Against this backdrop, the situation might seem a bit hopeless. But as the “60 Minutes” report highlighted, two teenage girl super-achievers have formed a new youth lobbying and advocacy group called Tech(nically) Politics for social media regulation. Their goal, quite simply, is to convince the big Silicon Valley tech firms to stop prioritizing addictive behaviors and other destructive activities on social media.
One of their tactics is to help older politicians understand what’s going on with today’s youth, and to that end, they are filming videos of young teens who have been devastated by social media. Some teens are literally so overwhelmed by social media that they think the only way out is to commit suicide. One of the teens behind the lobbying effort says she once created Instagram posts with just a single sentence, “I don’t deserve to exist.” Yikes!
Positive signs of change
The good news is that these grassroots lobbying efforts appear to be having a positive impact. In California, for example, the state just passed the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, which will go into effect in 2024. It will require all tech firms and social media platforms to design experiences that are geared to teenagers and young users. That’s in stark contrast to today’s default option, which is to take a platform designed for adults and simply make a few tweaks.
At the very least, legislation like this will stop tech firms from trying to trap today’s youth in a seemingly endless cycle of scrolling through social media posts and feeling worse and worse about their lives with every passing minute.