Teens talk about Utah’s effort to reduce social media’s impact on mental health

From a social media battle to the governor’s proposed school smartphone ban, many of the states’ biggest moves have focused on high school students. What do you think of the states’ efforts? KUTV gathered a panel of teenagers to find out what they’re really going through.

Overall, the group told us they agree that social media causes problems.

Jacy: Our whole lives have been on social media.”

Camryn: I think that has a huge impact on mental health. It’s hard to be optimistic about the future.”

RELATED: Weber County High School Cell Phone Ban Draws Mixed Reactions

These are teenagers who have seen children their age struggle with mental health and face the same challenges that have contributed to a staggering rise in suicide rates. They agree there is a problem.

Elena: “I think it should be recognized that social media has a huge impact on the health and well-being of students, specifically mental health.”

But what is the solution and should the State intervene? That’s another story. Some of these students say leaders are stepping in without understanding what teenagers are really dealing with.

Anna: “I feel like they’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg and not seeing the rest of the things we have to deal with.”

Parker: I think we can agree that there are problems that need to be fixed, but I think they’re out of touch with how to fix it. And I think the wrong solution can be more damaging than no solution at all.”

The laws, which will take effect in October, would heavily regulate social media, including curfews on when children can log on. The governor is also advocating that smartphones be banned from schools.

Bella: “I really feel strongly that this would not be positive.

Sam: “Kids will find a way around it.”

Jacy: “The ban as a whole will only cause chaos.”

Parker: “At this point, phones are very much integrated into the learning system.”

But students are hard to separate from their phones.

Jacy: It’s almost like an addiction.”

And he fears losing the benefits of social media and phones that some believe may outweigh the negatives.

RELATED: Utah bill lets parents sue social media companies for harm to children’s mental health

Bella: “Phones can be a great tool, especially at school.”

Jacy: “I personally like them, I love my social networks. I know there are harmful effects, but I also feel like I can connect with people.”

Camryn: “Even though it can be harmful and negative for mental health at times, I’ve also found a lot of resources there.”

And for the laws that apply to school hours, some wonder if it will be another responsibility that falls on the shoulders of teachers.

Sam: It’s going to become a bigger problem. That more learning will be lost trying to enforce this rule.”

Sawyer: “Just add more to the teachers. It’s not like they have an easy job dealing with high school students all day.”

Some argue that government intervention takes choice out of the hands of teenagers who are about to become adults and need to learn accountability.

Camryn: I think the most important thing is for students to learn that self-policing of phones, and we’re never going to learn that if it’s just a ban.”

We have taken many of these concerns directly to Governor Spencer Cox.

Parker: “In the world of social media, my problems follow me everywhere.

Governor Cox said, I thought when I started down this road that we would have a student revolt. And it was the exact opposite when I went through these schools. They know their problem. They know there is serious harm to themselves and their friends. They see that addiction happens. The problem is following them. The inability to escape it, to turn it off at any moment. It’s in the classroom is when they go home. It’s the messes at night.

The governor said he felt widespread student support for efforts to reign in social media and his proposals to ban smartphones in schools. But how do you respond to those who feel that teenagers’ concerns are being ignored?

Elena: “If they’re going to create legislation that directly affects a certain demographic, they need to understand the perspective and experiences of that demographic.”

The governor responded: I talked to hundreds, probably thousands of students over the past few years about their experiences with social media. And I have to say, lawmakers aren’t as out of touch as kids probably think. Many of them are parents and have children and have these conversations on a regular basis. I sure do, I still have teenagers at home.

Some are calling for parents, not state law, to police teenagers’ use of social media and smartphones.

Sam: “When it comes to, like, social media and phones, it’s the parents who provide those things, so it should be more parents monitoring when their kids are on social media.

Governor Cox responded: I agree with everything these kids said, and all we’ve done in these bills is make that happen. That’s the problem, I hear parents all the time we need help. We want to be able to do that, but the social media companies designed it in such a way that it’s almost impossible for parents to do the things these kids say parents should be able to do. We were not putting the state in the role of parents.

But one student says this strategy doesn’t make sense. With a shortage of counselors in her school district, she says the treatment for this youth epidemic is support and help, not bans and regulations.

Elena: I don’t think there’s any way these counselors can help every student who needs that help.

Gov Cox responded: How do we respond to this? One is to get more resources in there for sure. But two is to find out why this happens. We wouldn’t need so many counselors if we didn’t have such an increase in depression, self-harm, anxiety, would we? And so, we have to do both.

Some shared their own thoughts on what would work best for teenagers who are almost adults and need the opportunity to make choices and learn for themselves.

Camryn: If you’re on your phone during a lesson or while studying and you do poorly on a test, you need to learn from that instead of banning it entirely. Because you will never learn and grow and learn that self-control.

Governor Cox responded, there are certainly age differences. We don’t say well we want kids to learn lessons so we let 10 year olds drive cars because they have to learn if they wreck a car that’s a problem. So there are different kinds of policies that need to be put in place at different ages and I think there’s a lot of ways to learn lessons without kids having suicide rates off the charts because of what was seen with the networks social.

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