Meta is being sued for allegedly fueling the national youth mental health crisis. How parents can intervene | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing

Adolescents who spend more time on social media have an increased risk of symptoms of anxiety and depression. Getty Images

Concerns about the negative impact of social media on youth mental health have reached new heights. Today, 33 attorneys general filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against Meta for its role in damaging youth mental health. Nine other states are filing similar lawsuits, according to the press release. 

The lawsuit, signed by a bipartisan coalition, cites the platform’s addictive, dopamine-rewarding qualities for keeping youth online with features that diminish their sense of self-worth and well-being. The lawsuit claims Meta has been “employing harmful and psychologically manipulative platform features while misleading the public about the safety of those features.” 

“Our bipartisan investigation has arrived at a solemn conclusion: Meta has been harming our children and teens, cultivating addiction to boost corporate profits,” General Rob Bonta, a California Attorney who led the coalition, said in a press release. “With today’s lawsuit, we are drawing the line. We must protect our children and we will not back down from this fight. I am grateful for the collaboration of my fellow state attorneys general in standing up for our children and holding Meta accountable.”

This comes as parents, caregivers, educators, and policymakers have been sounding the alarm on the youth mental health crisis for years, which one researcher argues began ‘a good 8 years before COVID was on the scene.’ Many leaders are calling out social media platforms as perpetrators. 

Social media’s effects on mental health

The research on the link between mental health and social media is grim. Adolescents who spend more time on social media have an increased risk for symptoms of anxiety and depression. Social media may also put young people at risk for social comparison, low self-esteem, and symptoms associated with eating disorders, with a particular vulnerability for teen girls, according to an advisory earlier this year penned by the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. He said social media can harm youth’s developing brains and creates a “meaningful risk of harm to children.” 

“Our children have become unknowing participants in a decades-long experiment,” Vivek Murthy tweeted when his advisory was published, advocating for more safety regulations for youth online. “And while there is more we have to learn about the full impact, we know enough now to take action and protect our kids.” 

Proposed government policies targeting online safety for youth have sprung up as Murthy has advocated for “age-appropriate health and safety standards” and involvement from more than the parent. Still, parents don’t need to wait for tech companies to respond to the crisis. There are tangible ways they can intervene, even though long-term solutions will take systemic change. 

Parents and the social media spiral 

“So many children every single day are encountering things that most parents have no idea about,” Titania Jordan, the chief parent officer at Bark Technologies, a subscription content monitoring platform for parents, previously told Fortune. “There’s no standard of care for when a child has been severely cyberbullied or groomed by a predator, or their nudes have leaked to the entire school, or they’ve seen an unbelievable amount of disordered eating-related content on Tik Tok.”  

Jordan said starting with the research can help. For example, facilitate conversations with your children about limiting screen time before bed, which can mitigate the adverse effects of social media and bolster sleep quality. It’s also important to approach social media use with your kids in a non-judgemental way, especially as generational differences may make it hard to understand what it’s like to be online 24/7. 

“You need to talk to your children … in age-appropriate ways but much younger than you might think you need to and at a much more frequent rate because we are all inundated,” Jordan said. 

Talk to children about the feelings of FOMO they may get from mindlessly scrolling. Consider asking your child what kind of content they are coming across and how they feel about it. It can help foster a conversation about the content that instills a sense of belonging and the content that may contribute to feelings of low self-worth. Whether it’s unfollowing an account or limiting screen time, individual solutions can come out of being mindful about usage. 

It may be helpful to ask whether or not they feel energized or depleted by scrolling (oftentimes, it’s the latter). Checking in with yourself and reorganizing your time accordingly can help you see how social media is affecting your mental health. 

Though social media companies may eventually be held accountable for the damage that’s been done, long term policy solutions feel lightyears away.

In the meantime, control what you can. You may consider encouraging your teens and tweens to prioritize in-person connection. It’s one of the most useful antidotes to scrolling.

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