(soft intro music) - [Announcer] Funding for Utah Insight is made possible by viewers like you.
- [Raeann] Coming up on Utah Insight.
A youth mental health crisis.
Many speculating social media is to blame.
- We're letting social media companies decide how to parent our kids, and that's a huge mistake.
- [Raeann] Lawsuits are piling up against the networking sites.
- Social media's bright and shiny and it's easy to point to.
- [Raeann] But not everyone is convinced the social platforms are to blame.
(soft upbeat music) Welcome to Utah Insight.
I'm Raeann Christensen.
Tonight we're shedding light on an important issue, the concerning decline of mental wellbeing among our youth.
Just this week, the US Surgeon General issued a warning that social media poses a profound risk of harm to children, and teenagers' mental health and wellbeing.
Dr. Vivek Murthy also sent a call to tech companies, policymakers and parents to take immediate action to protect our kids now.
This comes as the White House announced it's forming a new task force on kids and online health safety.
A lot of action on social media and youth just this week.
And joining us in the studio tonight to talk about all of this, we have Jessica Holzbauer, a licensed clinical social worker with the Huntsman Mental Health Institute.
Nevaeh Parker, a recent Roy High School graduate and political activist, and Maura Carabello, owner of the Exoro Group, and an advisor to Utah's top elected officials and business leaders.
I wanna thank you so much for being here today.
And I wanna talk to Jessica.
You're on the front lines with children.
I wanna know how you feel about that warning that the US Surgeon General put out.
- Well, it's pretty alarming, and I was really grateful that it came out, and really, it's timely.
I mean, I think that the issue with social media and in children and adolescents is really complex.
I do think that the Surgeon General put it so nicely that we have really relied on parents to be the ones who govern social media and their children's use, which is fine on a small scale, but I really think we need more broader, sweeping regulations to help keep our children safe.
And in Dr. Murthy's report, he says the number of children and teens dealing with depression and anxiety has risen almost 30% in recent years with social media being a clear factor.
Nevaeh, how do you feel about that, and what were you seeing in your school?
I think it is completely a factor.
And I think looking at it as not the only factor is super important to me, but looking at it as a big factor is also important.
I mean, when we look at social media, it's about comparing yourself to one another, and it's so easy to do that when it's just right at your fingertips.
And it's also something that you do when you're bored too.
So you're just more likely to hop on that app and see things from one person's best.
And I think that is the key to why it can make it so harmful for people to live with that.
They just have to look and see and compare someone's best when we're not always at our best.
And that can make you anxious about the way that you're perceived, the way that you live your life, the choices that you make based on another person's best.
And that's not always reality.
And I think anxiety and depression go hand in hand.
I've seen that in my own life.
And so it kind of just amplifies the two.
And it's really unfortunate that it's that way because it's so easy to access.
- Not to mention the editing and the filtering.
- And it's actually not real life.
It's not at all.
- I think young kids need to know that for sure.
- Exactly, yeah.
Dr. Murthy went on to say that we do not have enough evidence to conclude that social media is in fact sufficiently safe for our kids.
Maura, do you feel that more research needs to be done before we take any drastic measures?
- So it just came out within the last 48 hours, but I was really pleased to see this directive on a number of policy levels.
One, the Surgeon General in the United States has had a history of being able to use the bully pulpit to elevate a topic.
And so while they don't have any regular... Like they can't really enforce anything.
It's almost the better source.
So he comes out with this 19-page directive, and one of the first calls is more research.
What we've seen is compounding, compounding corollary evidence, but no causal evidence.
And the complexity of it, as was well stated, you don't know.
The other thing is we're seeing this generation, I too have a high school senior, and this generation also has COVID, which is not to minimize the impact of social media, but you all have lived through quite a bit.
- The other thing I like is the balance he struck in saying, absolutely, social media, if you overuse it, you withdraw from activities and person to person.
But he also points out that it can be a key place for kids who don't have community in their own communities to reach out and find people who are like-minded and give them actually a lot of hope.
So what I liked about it, and I'm sure we'll talk more, is that he starts to outline the complexities and all the areas that the Americans need to start working on from policy to family unit, to community unit, to really so many more studies.
- It's relatively new to us.
So there hasn't been a lot of research.
- So there are perspectives on social media with students and how they feel about it and its impact on them.
Take a listen.
- You can ask parents and they will tell you, you can ask teachers and they will tell you.
Better yet, ask the students, ask teenagers.
This is one of my favorite things to do.
I ask them, are you seeing an increase in your own life, amongst your friends, in your school in depression, anxiety and self-harm?
And every one of them will say yes.
And then I ask the question, what do you think is causing it?
And every one of them tell me it's social media.
- Frankly, I see more disturbing things in people's interactions in the real world than I do among kids on social media.
I think that if anything, it's informed kids, it's shown kids and connected them to events, to people, to influencers that they otherwise wouldn't have been.
But the things that make children sad today are the same things that made children sad forever.
- So this could be a difference with high school and elementary.
Governor Cox is visiting high schools while Mr. Arthur is an elementary teacher.
Having just graduated, what's your reaction to these two opinions, Nevaeh?
- Wow, I think there's good points on both ends of it.
I like how in his video, the elementary school teacher, he talked about connection.
And I think that that is a huge factor in this because even elementary school students, I mean when they get home, say they have a hard home life, and then they go on their phone and they can chat with their friends or they can play a game with their friends.
I think that is a plus that we can look at.
And the same goes for a high school student.
Say they have a hard home life or say they're just struggling mentally, maybe going on and talking to the friends in a quicker way an easier way than going to someone's house.
Could be more beneficial.
And so I think that that connection part is a big factor in this.
But I also think that the governor isn't wrong.
That if you go to a high school and you ask now, I mean, if I were to ask my friends, and I did, they did say that it's hard.
I just go home and I just feel like I have to be on my phone.
It feels like almost an addiction.
And I know that that word is super complex and I wouldn't use it if it weren't true in some ways, because we gravitate towards it.
I mean, I gravitate towards it.
I'm like, oh, I need to open Instagram.
And I think that can be hard, and it affects your mental health.
I don't think it's a direct causation like you were talking about.
I think that was really interesting how you were saying it's correlated, but it's not exactly, I am depressed and it is because I use social media even at a high rate.
Jessica, I wanna talk to you about the addiction she brought up.
Do you think a lot of kids are managing an addiction without even knowing it?
- I agree that addiction is a really complex word, right?
And coming from a clinical background, I mean, I'm a child and adolescent therapist.
That word has a different meaning to me I think than it does in popular culture.
Do I think that it's a habitual behavior to grab your phone and look at it?
Right, we have research that shows that all of us grab our phones on average 2100 times a day.
Touch it, 2100 times a day.
- And that we're getting over 80 notifications a day.
Now, mind you, - That's awful.
- I think it's probably a lot more for adolescents, right?
- Yeah, yeah.
- And so if you think about that our phones are telling us what to do rather than us deciding what we do with our phones.
So I think it's really complicated because the apps are designed to keep us engaged, right?
The apps are, they're smarter than we are.
That's the reality.
And so I don't think it's just a matter of willpower.
So I think it's habitual behavior, I think it's repetitive behavior, I think it can be compulsive behavior.
And I will say that I have conversations with parents weekly, sometimes every day about the response that their adolescents have when they try to limit their use of their phone or they try to limit social media usage.
It brings on a really strong response because it is a form of social connection.
- That unless you are on it all the time, there can be unintended social consequences.
So it's very, very nuanced.
- Okay, and speaking of limitations, Governor Cox has announced the state is suing social media companies, and he has signed two bills placing restrictions on social media outlets.
Right now in Utah it's law that anyone under 18 verify age to open an account, get the consent of a parent, allow parents full access, block access at nighttime, no unapproved direct messaging, no minors in search results.
Social media companies also cannot collect a minor's data or target their accounts with addictive designs or features for advertising.
So, Maura, how do you feel about so much control by the government?
- I've pendulum swung.
I mean, at the beginning, I think the reaction of all of us is to do something.
We know there's a problem and so we wanna respond to it, and government wants to respond to it.
I think Utah's approach, what I will say, I think we knowingly know we're at the front.
Meaning we know this is a lawsuit, it's not a bill.
And we understand we're litigating.
And in fact, the governor used those examples of sort of saying we had to sue big tobacco and we had to do these things.
So, I think it was a political gesture, a symbolic gesture of wanting to disrupt the system, and I can see that.
I think if you look at the merit of the bill, it's exactly what government shouldn't be doing.
The one thing we know about America is prohibitions don't work.
Prohibitions don't work.
Education works, funding.
I pulled this stat, and I wanna be clear that it's sort of an apple and an orange, but with the tobacco settlement, over 25 years, they were obligated to spend $206 billion.
So that's over 20 billionaire.
So lots of different things went to it.
But what if we were to put 1/10 of those resources into understanding what the problem is before we moved to prohibition?
When I asked my teen friends about prohibition, an absolute no, it was like, oh, you adults are so adorable.
I mean, it was like you guys don't get it and why don't you get it?
So I think the prohibition was the absolute wrong response from government.
And we do this all the time as policymakers, 'cause we're using our tools and the complexity is hard.
What I would like to see the state of Utah do is instead of spending on a lawsuit, I would like us to lead the nation on research about where the triggers are.
Is it time on, is it content on, is it... Like what are the aspects that help parents and teachers, and the rest of us navigate this?
Well, that's an interesting point about the research though, because I mean, TikTok is fairly new.
Like if we're talking like in broad terms, we haven't been on TikTok the way that we are right now for that long.
So we don't know the direct causes of the way it's making us feel, think, react to things.
So, I agree with that completely.
- Okay, so in the Surgeon General's report, it said most social media sites have a requirement of 13 years old.
40% of eight to 12 year olds are regular users.
Jessica, are kids just gonna get around these new laws?
Are they gonna help?
- Kids are much smarter than the adults in their life when it comes to accessing apps or things on their phones.
So, I've always curious because the children I work with, so I work with adolescents and children.
I would say the majority of the children I work with are on YouTube, which is considered to be a social media app.
And the content that they view on YouTube is incredibly alarming to me.
And I think that some very well-meaning parents may have put restrictions on, they might have the kid feature on the app, and that doesn't make the kids safe.
So I think about it kind of like cars and seat belts, right?
We can't just ban all cars.
What we learn is if we add safety features like airbags and seat belts, that it's safer for the occupants.
So I really think about treating social media sort of like we treat cars.
And we put kids in car seats, we don't let them drive, we don't let them sit in the front seat.
Things need to be different for kids as compared to adolescents, as compared to adults.
A Utah teen says her activity online became more than a social media addiction, it was part of her.
A constant feat of harmful eating disorder content her mother says spiraled even more out of control once it was discovered.
Liz Adeola sat down with the family, and we do wanna warn you that some of the images may be triggering to some.
- It was a sight, - Sorry.
- [Liz] That years later still brings a mother to tears.
- She was almost dead.
She was so close.
So I think she had shorts and a body suit on and I just started crying.
It was wintertime.
So she was wearing coats and when I saw her, it just blew my mind.
I just couldn't believe how far it had gotten without being noticed.
- [Liz] Latisha Herrera's teenage daughter Catherine explains how the lens she saw herself through was similar to a type of body dysmorphia.
- I struggled with a very, very intense eating disorder.
And this past year I was at the lowest weight I've ever been.
I was hospitalized three different times in one year.
- [Liz] Instead of help, they found a system of revolving doors.
- Finding resources for recovery when it comes to like certain facilities and actual medical treatment is extremely, not only difficult but wildly expensive.
- And they kept telling her she was fine.
That was the worst part.
She was fine.
'Cause it wasn't till a different doctor came in and was like, if you send her home, she's gonna die.
She had all these huge goals and all these big plans that she wanted to do with her life and then it just kind of was gone.
She was gone.
- [Liz] Catherine say she was fueled mostly by her social media feed.
- I think I got my first phone when I was like eight-ish, free reign.
Every bit of information I could ever want at my fingertips.
When I was that young, it was pretty much a lot of like gaming, and then eventually, social media pushes certain ideals to you.
It started off as like healthy lifestyle, but it started developing into a lot more harmful diet culture and eating disorder type of content.
- [Liz] Catherine says the more she watched, the more the algorithm would send similar content her way.
- What I didn't recognize is that there is a line of when it is healthy to when these types of habits become disordered.
- I didn't know if she was gonna wake up in the morning.
It was very, very scary to think that she could be gone, and for what?
Okay, somebody's gotta take responsibility for it somewhere.
I mean, us parents as well.
But the stuff that they're allowing on social media for kids as young as seven is not okay.
- [Liz] There's now a law in the books that requires minors in Utah to have parental permission before they can sign up for social media sites, but Catherine isn't sure how that law would've helped her.
- They asked like, oh, how old are you?
You have to be at least 13 to use these apps.
And I just put in a different year.
- [Liz] Today she's a part of a growing group of families looking to hold the owners of social media sites accountable by suing.
- I know it's hard to like monitor the millions and billions of posts that go out every single day, but it's still discouraging to see that this content can still be posted.
It feels at times almost inescapable.
However, I know that even though there is a lot of negative content out there, there's a ton of positive content too.
- [Liz] And that's where her focus is today.
Catching up on moments lost while warning others about the dark side of social media.
- Even though I have transformed my feed and like have unfollowed and blocked those negative accounts, every once in a while I still get pushed those videos.
With recovery, a lot of people are scared of the weight gain, but you're not only gaining weight, you're gaining experiences, memories, friends, just life.
You're gaining your life back.
- That's pretty emotional to watch, and hard to watch on some of those pictures.
What are your thoughts, Nevaeh, after watching that?
(Nevaeh sighing) - I'm thankful for her story and for her vulnerability of talking about this, because unfortunately, I think her story is all too common and people hide that because it's not talked about.
Sorry, it's just hard to watch that because I've seen friends in my life struggle with similar things, and (sighs) I think she's smart to say that there might not be the right answer to just block that as a whole, to just block social media as a whole and to have such heavy restrictions.
But I do think that education, like you were talking about, is crucial in this day and age to talk about when you go on social media, when you download that app, be educated on what you could be seeing.
Maybe filters could be a solution in some way, but I really appreciate the fact that it's not necessarily the person's fault for opening the app and getting started.
It's maybe just the content that you're being shown can take you down this rabbit hole of sadness, of darkness, of comparison, and that is the part that we need to fix of going down that hole and seeing all of those dark things.
I think that's where we can fix it and maybe not restricting people all the way.
- Her powerful story also brings up a couple of distinctions that I think we're not talking about.
Now, it started out early on saying the benefit for social media for her was friend to friend.
- Person to person still.
You're using this vehicle, but it was you and I used the telephone for hours on long cords.
- But it was person to person.
Her negative experience happened because she was going into worlds that weren't hers.
- And it was about content.
So I think accountability on content should be a tough conversation with the suppliers of social media, and how the addictive qualities and the neurological.
When we overuse, it's because we're wired to overuse.
And we're not talking enough about the accountability of the content.
The person to person has really opened some doors, whether it's for democracy or whether it's for a lonely person, but really looking at use I think begins to matter.
I start to see some public conversations that are interesting between AI, where they're coming out with AI and we're like, is this good?
Is this scary?
Is this horrible?
- We didn't have that reaction to social media and we need to catch up with that in saying, how is technology enhancing our lives?
And how is actually the ease of technology been a detriment or been a deterrent to living our full lives.
- Well, and if I may, I have a further concern just simply about the person to person contact.
And I have heard countless stories, especially of girls.
And in the Surgeon General's report, he said that six out of 10 adolescent girls have received comments or communication from strangers that was unwanted.
The amount of girls I work with who have had adults contact them, and contact them easily, right?
Through Snapchat, through Instagram is a significant concern to me.
Because we know that adolescents are primed, they're going through psychological development to want affirmation, to want attention, that's just part of adolescent development.
We can't fault them for that.
And so when they receive communication from an adult and communication that may be affirming, I think they're highly vulnerable to being put in a situation that is unsafe to them.
So, the person to person communication really worries me as well.
And the Center for Disease Control recently released data saying US teen girls have had an unprecedented rise in suicidal behavior.
Over the past 20 years, there has been a staggering 87% increase in suicides among females aged 15 to 24, and for males in the same age group, the number of suicides went up by 30% during that time.
I wanna ask you, Jessica, what do you think is happening with our young women?
- It's a really hard time to be a teenage girl right now.
It's a really hard time.
I mean, the Surgeon General put out a report two years ago about how the social isolation during the pandemic really was a detriment to adolescents' mental health.
I think girls in particular, we have seen research too that demonstrates that girls are more susceptible to having a negative body image and to feeling worse about themselves when they engage with social media.
There's been some really good research that demonstrates that the longer amount of time that girls spend on social media per day, the higher the likelihood is, now, again, it's not causation, but the higher the likelihood is that they will develop poor self-image, anxiety or depression.
And so I think for girls in particular, because so much of the content on social media is about selling the best version of themselves about image, and that girls we know are highly, highly susceptible to fine tuning their image to fit in, I think that they are at an increased risk of developing suicide ideation, anxiety, depression, when they are viewing social media on a regular basis.
And we are almost out of time.
I can't believe this goes by so fast.
And I do wanna give you about 30 seconds each.
If you can give us some final thoughts, maybe some resources, thoughts to help.
You wanna go ahead, Maura?
- So you before we started, said something wonderful that I think should guide this discussion, which is, you said, today the conversation won't conclude with anything.
It's really important that we have the components of the conversation, and that's what I'm gonna keep saying.
And some of the conversations are really hard because they deal with consequences that as parents, we don't know if we can handle.
The topics are sometimes really heavy.
But for me it's as easy and as hard as continuing to have the conversation, don't lead with solutions, lead with data, and lead with continuing to check in on where we are as a community.
- Nevaeh, any final thoughts?
This is kind of just from a teenage girl's point of view.
I think the best thing that we can do for ourselves is to take care of ourselves.
And so that means that if you are feeling down because you're just looking at every Instagram model's post, picture, maybe just take a step back, go hang out with your friends, talk to your mom, hug your brother, pet your dog.
I mean, I know people are like, go touch some grass, but I mean, (panelists laughing) I have to remind myself of that too.
Just take care of yourself.
And kind of, it's probably easier said than done, but maybe self-regulate just a little bit if you can tell that what you are taking in is not serving you for the best.
- And any quick thoughts from Jessica?
- You're good.
I would encourage all parents, all families to go onto the American Academy of Pediatrics website and create the media plan with their family, because it puts the intention back in media use.
I think we need to be intentional with our media consumption and create a media diet that works for families.
Thank you guys so much for being here.
This was a great conversation to have, and an important one as well.
If you or someone you know are in a mental health crisis, you can call or text 988, the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which is available anytime, anywhere.
In Utah, students and parents also have access to the SafeUT app where they can chat confidentially or submit a tip about themselves or a friend.
Next time on Utah Insight.
Domestic violence is on the rise in Utah.
We look into what actions are being taken to help victims and what is being done to prevent it from happening in the first place.
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