The Digital Dilemma: Social Media’s Adverse Impact on Youth

In March, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed S.B. 152 Social Media Regulation Amendments, sponsored by Sen. Mike McKell. The bill places restrictions on social media companies and provides parents with additional tools to protect teens from the harmful effects of social media. Utah is the first state to begin restricting how minors can use social media apps.

According to the Utah Senate website, since 2010, rates of depression and mental health crises in American teens have nearly doubled. Before that, the rates remained stagnant. Social media has been linked to these increased rates.

“In Utah, we care deeply about our teen’s mental health,” said Sen. McKell. “Since 2009, depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation has drastically increased among minors in Utah and across the United States. After reviewing the data and talking with teens and parents, I decided to run S.B. 152 Social Media Regulation Amendments. Utah is leading the way to fight back against the harms of social media and providing parents with more resources and controls.”

An article cited in the Canadian Medical Association Journal shares evidence from various studies that implicates social media use in the increase of mental distress, self-injurious behavior, and suicide among youth. Other negative effects include chronic sleep-deprivation, lessened cognitive control, poor academic performance, cyberbullying, poor self-view, and a breakdown in interpersonal relationships. 

Dr. Jack Resneck Jr., president of the American Medical Association, wrote, “With near universal social media use by America’s young people, these apps and sites introduce profound risk and mental health harms in ways we are only now beginning to fully understand. As physicians, we see firsthand the impact of social media, particularly during adolescence – a critical period of brain development. We continue to believe in the positive benefits of social media, but we also urge safeguards and additional study of the positive and negative biological, psychological, and social effects.” 

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said, “Our children don’t have the luxury of waiting years until we know the full extent of social media’s impact. Their childhoods and development are happening now.” 

Murthy recommends the following ways to help families lessen the harms of social media.

Tips for parents and caregivers:

1. Create a family media plan. Have open discussions as a family about rules and setting boundaries for social media use. Establish tech-free zones, which will help foster in-person relationships and offline connections. Help youth develop social skills and nurture in-person relationships. 

2. Model responsible online behavior. Show youth what it looks like to use social media in a healthy way. Teach by example how to exhibit positive behavior on social media accounts.

3. Teach youth how to share information safely and when and how to protect personal information. Discuss the benefits and risks of social media and the importance of respecting privacy. Discuss who they are connecting with, what their online experiences consist of, and how they spend their time online. 

Tips for youth:

1. Reach out to a trusted friend or adult for help if you are negatively affected by social media. Visit for tips on how to report cyberbullying. If you have experienced online harassment and abuse by a dating partner, contact an expert at Love is Respect for support. If your private images have been shared online without your permission, visit Take It Down to help get the images removed.

2. Limit the use of technology. To ensure you get enough sleep, turn off devices at least one hour before bedtime and leave them off until morning. Keep your phone and other devices from intruding on mealtimes and gatherings by putting them away. This will help promote social connections and conversations with others. Make it a daily priority to connect with people in- person. 

3. Carefully choose what you share online and with whom, as it may be stored permanently. When in doubt, don’t post!

Additional Resources:

How to Help Teens with the Negative Impacts of Social Media 

Teens and Social Media Use: What’s the Impact?

By: Christina Pay, Utah State University Extension assistant professor,, 435-636-3236

Stop the Hate: Seven Tips to Help Youth Respond When They Encounter Online Hatred

In today’s fast-paced, free-speech online world, chances are high that your child will encounter some type of hate and/or discrimination. This can be against race, religion, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, political party and others. Hate speech can range from disparaging comments to harassment and even threats.

Youth will likely face casual exposure to hate and racism merely by getting online, listening to music, reading comments under a YouTube video or group chat, or looking up a definition for a school assignment. The growing intensity and frequency of this and the idea some have that “it’s just part of life” make it critical to talk to youth about it. By doing so, they will be better able to handle what comes their way and help stop the hate.

One national report showed that one quarter, or around 11 million, of black Americans have been the target of online harassment due to their race or ethnicity, and 23% of the LGBT community report having been exposed to comments they considered hateful over the past year.

While hate speech may be lawful under the First Amendment, it crosses the legal line when it includes threats and harassment, specifically targets someone or creates a hostile environment. Often, when hate speech goes unchecked, it can quickly escalate into violence.

The internet didn’t invent hate speech, but our online world, and particularly social media, provides a venue to express thoughts and feelings, both good and bad. For most people, it is much easier to share hurtful words online than it is in person, looking at another human face-to-face. Children are exposed to all kinds of information that is easily created, distributed and believed by those who want their hateful ideas and information spread and accepted.

Though it’s not a comfortable topic, hate speech should be discussed regularly. Consider these tips for talking with your youth.

1. Ask what they know about it.  Look up the definition of hate speech and ask if they have witnessed or experienced it online or in-person. Discuss how it affects people.

2. Report it. Most websites have “terms of service,” and hate speech, intimidation and threats are generally a violation of these terms.

3. Block it. Most social media sites have an option to block people, including those who use hate speech, racist language or post something you find offensive. Blocking people can be socially tricky for some youth, so discuss it and empower them to make responsible decisions, balancing the need to belong with exposure to hateful or hurtful posts.

4. Refuse to share the hate. Forwarding any type of hate speech is wrong, plus, in many cases, it can be traced back to you, which will lead to more difficulties.

5. Nurture empathy and compassion. Have children consider how other people feel. Talk about the Holocaust, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, racism, social justice, tolerance and diversity. Ask them to think of a time when someone said something that hurt them. Discuss how it might feel if you were the person or member of a group that was targeted by cruel language or actions. You can use current events as a moment to teach.

6. Explain your personal values. Explain that each of us is born with a need for attachment—a longing for belonging and acceptance, whether it’s a team, a group of friends, a club or a religious community. These groups help fill an inner need to belong and contribute. It’s natural for tweens and teens to want to join groups. Sometimes passionate groups dedicated to putting others down and even hurting others make kids feel more powerful, protected and united. Ask your youth if they know about groups like this and why they think kids participate. Let them know your views on groups that promote hate.

7. Start the discussion early. This will give your children the skills to think critically about what they see and read and will help them know how to react when they come across hate speech. Let them know that while you may disagree with other’s positions and values, you can do so in a kind, respectful way. In the end, as a human race, we have so many more similarities than differences, and the differences we have should be appreciated and celebrated. We can all do our part to stop the hate.

By: David Schramm, Utah State University Extension family life specialist,,435-797-8183

Smartphones and Wildlife a Bad Combination

In recent weeks, curious but misguided wildlife watchers in national parks have had unfortunate encounters with wildlife. In one case, the meeting resulted in someone taking a trip to the emergency room after an American bison took issue with being the center of a photograph. 

Adult bison can weigh in at 2,000 pounds and run 35 miles per hour. Their hooves and horns can be lethal. The National Park Service recommends that visitors stay at least 25 yards (the approximate length of two school busses) away from wild animals such as bison and elk, and 100 yards from bears and other carnivores. 

Although the dangers of human and wildlife close encounters are well documented, humans seem unable to resist the temptation to try to get close to, or even touch, wildlife. Because of the rise of smartphone use, capturing those moments of “connection” has never been easier. Many people hope to boost their social media with a shot of themselves up close and personal with the animals they have only seen on tv or in zoos. Although the intent is not malicious, these actions can place both people and wildlife in harm’s way. Additional concerns include people not understanding wild animal behavior, coupled with their inability to judge what constitutes a safe distance.

A recent paper in Human-Wildlife Interactions, a journal published by the Berryman Institute at Utah State University, provides new insights on the relationship between distance-related, human-bison interactions and smartphones ( Results indicate that people who always use a smartphone camera felt it was more acceptable to stand closer to bison than people who did not use one. 

Unless you are sure you can make it back to your car in less than 1.5 seconds, which is the amount of time it takes a bison to run 25 yards, it’s best to take a step back. You may miss a great photo, but you may also miss a trip to the emergency room.

To read more, visit

Tips to Manage Technology with Youth

Kids are spending more time with screen media than ever
before, and at younger ages. In addition, summer often provides more access and
time for electronic use. While technology can provide educational
opportunities, help us connect with others, and promote creativity (think
digital art), it is also important to help youth to set boundaries on their
technology use. Consider the following tips for managing technology with

Limit screen use.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and World Health Organization (WHO)
have provided guidelines to help families curb kid’s screen use to ensure
plenty of time for active, rather than sedentary activities and interacting
with others. While these guidelines suggest that children under one should not
have any screen time and those under five should not spend more than one hour
watching screens each day, there really isn’t a magic number for screen use in
general that fits every family. What appears to be more important is that it is
high quality, age appropriate media, and parental engagement in what is being

Some screen time is
better than others.
While not all media needs to be “educational,” you can
maximize your child’s screen time by helping them to find media that helps them
think critically, develop their creativity through creating new content (i.e.
songs, art, etc.) or helps them connect with the larger world in related
offline activities.

Screen time shouldn’t
always be alone time.
Watching and playing together can help to increase
social interactions, learning, and bonding.

Create tech-free
Keep family mealtimes and other social and family gatherings screen-free
in order to build social bonds and engage in two-way conversation. Because
electronics can be a potential distraction after bedtime, consider having an
inaccessible place to charge electronics at night, or download apps that
disable the device at bedtime to remove temptation from using screens at night.

Warn children about
the importance of privacy and dangers of predators.
Teens need to know that
once content is electronically shared they will not be able to remove or delete
it completely. Teach youth about privacy settings and be sure to monitor their
activity to keep them safe.

Be a good role model.
Children are great mimics, so be sure to limit your own media use.

Media and digital devices are an integrated part of our
society today. They can be a wonderful resource in a variety of ways, but they
can never replace the benefits of face-to-face interactions and learning. By
utilizing these tips, you can help youth reap the benefit of these wonderful
resources while keeping the benefits of personal interactions and learning at
the forefront of youth experiences.