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Mental Health

Bipartisan Experts: Safeguard Children Against Social Media Impact

— May 29, 2024

In a recent session hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center, advocates discussed measures to protect children online.

In Sioux Falls, a concerning dialogue took place about the adverse effects of social media on children’s mental health, indicating a strong consensus on the need for measures to safeguard against these effects. This discussion was part of a session hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center at Avera Behavioral Health Hospital, in collaboration with the Helmsley Charitable Trust, focusing on the growing mental health challenges among America’s youth.

During the event, Paul TenHaken, the Republican Mayor of Sioux Falls, emphasized how the weakening community bonds, and the rise of social media usage have significantly contributed to these mental health issues. He pointed out that the isolation experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic worsened these conditions across all age groups, noting that, “isolation is detrimental to mental health, regardless of age, as humans are inherently social beings.”

Statistics are rather grim, with over 40% of U.S. teenagers reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, and a noticeable increase in youth suicide attempts and drug overdoses. Particularly in South Dakota, the situation is alarming; the state recorded a 100% increase in teenagers suffering serious injuries from suicide attempts between 2009 and 2019, having one of the highest teen suicide rates in the nation from 2018 to 2020.

In response to these critical issues, the Bipartisan Policy Center established a Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Task Force in January. This task force is part of a broader initiative to tour rural America to gather insights and push for effective treatment solutions and policy changes.

Bipartisan Experts: Safeguard Children Against Social Media Impact
Photo by SHVETS production from Pexels

One significant point raised was the potential role of mentorship programs as a way to safeguard against these challenges. Mayor TenHaken highlighted the impact of these programs, stating that they can significantly alleviate the feelings of loneliness and despair that many young individuals face, often exacerbated by excessive screen time.

Val Demings, a Democrat and former U.S. representative from Florida who co-chairs the task force, discussed the issues with implementing policies that limit or regulate children’s use of social media. She acknowledged the difficulties faced in Congress, especially when some districts host major social media platforms. However, Demings expressed optimism about the growing bipartisan support for stricter social media regulations, referencing the recent legislative actions concerning TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance.

Furthermore, the need for increased funding and staffing in mental health care was also a key topic of discussion. Demings argued that investing in youth mental health is an important way to safeguard against harm and promote a healthy and productive future workforce, a sentiment echoed by several healthcare professionals at the event.

In a different perspective, Matt Althoff, Secretary of the South Dakota Department of Social Services, suggested that a decline in spiritual engagement might be influencing the mental health crisis, emphasizing the societal shift away from traditional religious values.

This gathering not only highlighted the critical issues faced by today’s youth but also the complex relationship of social, cultural, and political factors that influence mental health policies. It serves as a call to action for policymakers, community leaders, and families to collaborate more closely to protect the mental well-being of young individuals in this digital age.


Action needed to protect kids’ mental health from social media, bipartisan panelists say

Nearly Half of U.S. Teens Report Feeling Sad and Hopeless: What Can Be Done?

Suicide Data & Reports South Dakota

Adolescent Suicide—Understanding Unique Risks and Opportunities for Trauma Centers to Recognize, Intervene, and Prevent a Leading Cause of Death

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