Editor's note: The Deseret News will host two film screenings and discussions on teen anxiety: one in Park City on Tuesday, May 29, at 7 p.m., and one in Herriman on Wednesday, May 30, at 6:30 p.m. Collin Kartchner, the author of the following commentary, will sit on a discussion panel for Tuesday's event. Follow this link for registration to attend the free screening.
Two years ago when Dr. Jean Twenge released her book titled "iGen," sharing her research on how technology and social media is affecting the mental and emotional health of our youths, she said, "We are on the verge of the biggest mental health crisis our country has ever seen."
Well, that was two years ago. The verge is here. This is now a public health crisis.
Nationwide, we see an epidemic spike in the number and frequency of tweens/teens being diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression, along with terrifying trends in self-harm, eating disorders, bullying and suicide. Ten years ago the typical patient day for a pediatrician was "flu, cold, vaccination, fever, cold, fever." Today, a pediatrician's average day might be "Suicide attempt, suicide attempt, depression, anxiety, cutting, eating disorder, suicide attempt." Each day, emergency rooms are seeing more and more kids (as young as 6-7) with zero mental health history coming in after trying to take their own lives. Emergency room doctors, nurses, family doctors and even paramedics report to me stories of children they see so anxious that their body is literally shutting down. An elementary principal in Provo called me just last week to come speak to their students. Why? Because a group of fourth-grade girls have all been cutting. Nine- and 10-year-old girls.
Teenagers are reporting higher levels of social pressure than ever before, doctors are prescribing more mood stabilizers than ever before, and per capita, Utah is in the top five states in all of these categories. When did all of these trends start going into full gear? The data show the spikes starting around 2010: the year smartphones and social media became the new norm for our lives.
How is this happening to our kids? Who is the culprit? What is the thief that is stealing our kids' childhood, their innocence, their mental health, their joy?
It's the same culprit that is doing the same thing to us adults.
As I travel all over the state and country speaking to middle school and high school kids about the negative effects of social media, one thing rings true: Giving our kids with underdeveloped brains untethered access to all social expression is like giving them a loaded gun with zero training. We are giving our children the keys to the family car at age 12 with no driver's education, and then we sit back and wonder why they keep crashing and burning.
Smartphones and social media are opening our immature children up to a world that is so far beyond their maturity to correctly process. We put a tiny machine in their pocket that, if given without adequate training, opens them up to a new life of incessant anxiety, inescapable taunting and bullying, the soul-crushing social pressures to be perfect and get the likes — and we are now recognizing that this entire lab experiment was a huge, huge mistake.
It is time we rethink the technology we hand over to our children, and that starts with having critical conversations with ourselves as parents as to the positive or negative effect social media has on our own lives. Do we remember how hard it was to be 12? Can we imagine going through middle school, with all the instability — new things and people, everyone trying to figure out their own identity, making certain to be funny at all cost, accepted at all cost and not publicly shamed at all cost? Can we imagine what Snapchat and Instagram would have done to us?
Smartphones and social media are our generations' cigarettes. Sure, when they came out, everyone loved them and even doctors endorsed them. But then the research started coming out, and we all finally realized these tiny hand-size products marketed to us as feel-good necessities, were in fact terrible, terrible things. Restrictions were created to protect the developing minds of children, and lives were saved. Will smartphones be next?
Collin Kartchner created a social media parody account to shed light on the negative social media influence on women and teenage girls. He then used his account to raise money for hurricane victims, cancer kids, orphanages and is now running the #SavetheKids campaign to spread awareness of how social media is causing teen anxiety, depression and suicide.