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Experts weigh in on the dangers of social media on students

Last month at an Illinois State Senate hearing, experts were convened by State Senator Sue Rezin (R-Morris) to provide testimony on the dangers of social media and discuss how to hold platforms accountable to keep minors safe.

This is a growing concern as of late, with more and more information coming out about how using social media causes depression and other mental health issues, especially for people under the age of 18.

According to U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, "Teens who use social media for more than three hours a day face double the risk of depression and anxiety symptoms, which is particularly concerning given that the average amount of time that kids use social media is 3 1/2 hours a day."

The American Federation of Teachers has been tracking this issue closely. Not only does social media consumption have an outsized impact on student mental health, but it disrupts learning, as a social worker describes in a recent report by the American Federation of Teachers, Likes vs. Learning:

“Many times, the problem arises from group chats or social media posts that involve harassing or bullying behavior toward the student. When students are experiencing the negative social and emotional stressors of social media, we often see issues with attendance and behavior, dropping grades, and poor social interactions with teachers and peers. All of these things can have a direct impact on academic success.”

All of these detract from the core mission of our schools – to educate children. And the effects have detrimental impacts on the whole school community, including needing to put more efforts into supporting mental health (without the funding to go with it in most cases), updating school policies with social media related rules, repairing school property that’s damaged due to the latest social media trend, and diverting time from instructional activities.

While this may be news to some of us, the malicious part of the story is that social media companies knew of this harm all along yet did nothing to address it or inform the public.

In fact, it’s even worse than that. State Sen. Rezin stated the following in a press release after the hearing: “These children do not fully comprehend the real-world consequences of their use of social media. Meanwhile, we know from various different sources that these social media giants know about the harm they may be inflicting and instead of preventing it from occurring, it appears to be a cornerstone of their business model.”

Progress is being made, as school districts across the country are suing social media platforms for their role in magnifying the youth mental health crisis. Dozens of districts in Illinois have joined that fight!

Rob Weil, the Director of Research, Policy, Field Services, and Educational Issues from the American Federation of Teachers, testified at the hearing. In addition to outlining the dangers summarized above, he also laid out what AFT is doing to take action, including partnering with parent groups and other stakeholder organizations to encourage safeguards, curb addictive behavior, protect student privacy, and more.

While regulatory action is needed, Weil said, “[it] is just one piece of the puzzle. We need a united front, a collective call to action, urging social media companies to prioritize the well-being of our youth. Their daily choices have far-reaching consequences, and it’s time they align with the broader societal goal of safeguarding our future. We implore these companies to collaborate with us, to prioritize the safety and well-being of our students, and to ensure the sanctity and mission of our educational institutions are preserved.”

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