It’s no secret that the last two years of the pandemic have taken a toll on young people’s mental health. During this Mental Health Awareness Month, educators, parents and health officials say it’s critical to consider the impact of their prolonged exposure to screens as well.
In an online forum, Dalia Hashad – online safety director for the advocacy group ParentsTogether – said social media has done a great job of connecting people.
But at the same time, it has harmed young people’s mental health with exposure to content that promotes eating disorders, bullying and sexual exploitation.
“The longer a child spends online, the higher their level of anxiety, the higher the level of mood swings, aggressive behavior, feelings of worthlessness,” said Hashad. “It bears out in the statistics. Hospitalizations for eating disorders doubled last year.”
The conversation was hosted by the American Federation of Teachers.
Preliminary data from the 2021 Pennsylvania Youth Survey show an increase in mental-health concerns, including depression, self-harm and thoughts of suicide.
Dr. Warren Ng, president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, said the pandemic created an “avalanche” for youth who were already struggling with mental-health challenges.
For adults who have a close relationship with a young person, Ng added it’s important to take the time to ask them how they’re doing – and listen.
“We don’t see what the young people are seeing,” said Ng. “And so, I think it’s so important to really understand what their perspective is in order to best help them. Because maybe they have a very distorted sense of their appearance, who they are – and some of that has been shaped by their experience on social media, and not necessarily in the real world.”
Over 200,000 children in the U.S. have lost a parent or caregiver in the pandemic, with youth of color bearing a disproportionate impact.
On its website, AFT has an archive of webinars and educational resources for parents and teachers looking to provide emotional and psychological support for students.