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  • Writer's pictureMandlenkosi Arthur Moyo

Social Media: A Recipe for Disaster for Teen Mental Health?

Social media applications on a mobile phone screen

In recent months, social media has been trending for all the wrong reasons. According to reports from multiple news outlets, social media is causing depression and anxiety among teenagers.

On average, teenagers spend roughly two-and-a-half hours on social media doom-scrolling and consuming content which negatively affects their mental health and well-being, causing depression and anxiety according to studies.

This has led to some schools in the United States filing lawsuits against giant social media companies such as Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Facebook

and YouTube for helping create a surge in youth mental health crises. TikTok has especially been in the spotlight for creating trends which have claimed the lives of a number of teenagers, prompting a public outcry.

But social media has been around for a while. So why are cases of depression due to social media use seemingly only emerging now? The emergence of new social media platforms each targeting the same audience pool is increasing competition among the platforms. Platforms are enabling viral content in order to capture and retain the largest number of audiences on their platforms.

According to the lawsuits filed by some of the schools, advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning technology are used by social media giants to create addiction, encouraging extreme diet routines and self-harm among teens.

What can be done to make the internet safe for all?

US lawmakers have already started proposing the need for parental consent for teens to access social media, which actually isn't a bad idea. If platforms require parental consent, parents can keep track of their children's online presence.

Social media platforms could also scale up their content moderation on their platforms, and also take advantage of AI to filter keywords and other potentially depression-inducing content.

Learning how to navigate social media could be taught from as early as the primary school level to prepare children for virtual life. Most importantly, parents can teach children about the dangers of social media so that they are prepared for the types of content found on the internet, and are better able to manage the time spent on social media.

Social media can be a powerful tool for learning and communicating, but if used wrong it can cause mental health and unwellness. The importance to use it wisely and to teach children to also use it wisely cannot be emphasised enough.

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