In a recent news story on the European Union’s latest attempt to regulate social media and its underaged users (one with similarities to the law Utah legislators passed earlier this year) Politico’s writers referred to “quaint, even funny” examples of concerns parents and others had many years ago.

The effort was to show that concerns over technology and youthful behavior is not new, but the point was muddled.

In the 1940s, for instance, parents worried about the effects of children being addicted to radio. In the early 1960s, the worry was about television, which FCC chief Newton Minow had labeled a “vast wasteland.”

See how funny that is? 

Neither do we.

These examples may seem quaint, but they shouldn’t be so easily dismissed. Children 80 years ago who had inordinate obsessions with radio were likely not as well-adjusted as those who consumed it in moderation. Television in the ’60s was an earlier, less interactive version of today’s social media, and it’s hard to seriously argue that hours spent in front of the typical fare being offered back then was good for the brain. Most likely, Minow was right.

But the effects of social media are much starker and easier to detect, even if it’s a matter of degrees. The algorithms of modern media are much more geared toward captivating and mesmerizing audiences. 

Overconsumption of media in any form — to the detriment of creative play or intellectual pursuits — is a poor use of time. But today, the stakes are higher than ever.

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The Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States found that 30% of teenage girls had considered attempting suicide, while half had experienced sustained periods of loneliness and depression. Other studies have found links between social media use and depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm and poor self-image.

Earlier this year, the U.S. surgeon general issued an advisory that urged tech companies to prioritize safety and better health for children. The advisory said 64% of adolescents had “often” or “sometimes” been exposed to hate-based content through social media.

Critics cite a lack of direct correlation between the recent uptick in these negative feelings and social media use. And while there may indeed be several factors involved, the proliferation of targeted negative messages on social media is inarguably a big one. No other new invention has come along in recent years that corresponds so well with a decline in teenage mental health.

In the European Union, platforms with more than 45 million users may soon face a long list of rules, including providing a yearly assessment of how their companies’ algorithms, advertising, etc., impact minors. The assessments must include measures to improve these things, the outcomes of which later will be audited.

Politico said measures might include ways to keep algorithms from recommending diet videos to teenage girls, or ways to keep minors from endlessly scrolling through content. 

The EU also may prohibit companies from providing personalized commercial messages to minors based on their online activity.

Utah’s new laws require people to show a form of identification before opening a social media account. Users under the age of 18 must have parental consent. Minors face curfews — no social media use between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m.

Social media companies would be prohibited from using algorithms or design features that lead minors to become addicted to their sites.

The Utah laws are scheduled to take effect March 1 of next year. They may face court challenges, but that risk is minor compared to what is happening to young people.

As Washington Post contributing columnist Leana Wen said, “Utah’s bold efforts offer a road map for other states that are serious about addressing not just the manifestations of the teen mental health crisis but also a root cause of it.”

When the mental health of the nation’s youth is at stake, bold action is required. We’re glad the EU and other nations are formulating laws similar to Utah’s to tackle this crisis. The proper reaction is not to belittle or conjure reasons why these attempts might fail, but to work hard to find solutions that will succeed.

Radio and television presented their own sets of challenges to young people, but social media has put those challenges into overdrive. Letting the emerging generation sink into an epidemic of depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide is simply not acceptable.