Students and families throughout Minnesota could gain a lot from a lawsuit filed on Jan. 6 by two Washington state school districts.
That’s because the lawsuit challenges the impact of social media — such as TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube — on youngsters. The suit provides free, valuable information to families, educators and students.
A 2021 Surgeon General’s report, cited in the lawsuit, recognizes the value of and problems created by social media. It states: “While technology platforms have improved our lives in important ways, increasing our ability to build new communities, deliver resources and access information, we know that, for many people, they can also have adverse effects. When not deployed responsibly and safely, these tools can pit us against each other, reinforce negative behaviors like bullying and exclusion and undermine the safe and supportive environments young people need and deserve.”
It concludes: “Mental health challenges in children, adolescents and young adults are real and they are widespread. But most importantly, they are treatable and often preventable.”
Seattle, Washington state’s largest district and Kent, a nearby suburb, charge that they’ve had to spend substantial dollars to help deal with, as described in the lawsuit, “record rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and other tragic indices of the mental health crisis its youth are experiencing at Defendants’ hands.”
The districts insist: “Research has identified social media as playing a major role in causing mental health problems in youth.” They want the defendants to help pay for dealing with these challenges.
Minnesota families, districts and charter public schools also are encountering a significant increase in mental health issues among youngsters. Regardless of what happens with this lawsuit, I’m urging families and educators to take action: Skim the lawsuit (online at https://t.ly/V_s_) and read two brief documents quoted in the suit:
— The U.S. Surgeon General’s 2021 statement “Protecting Youth Mental Health” (online at https://t.ly/tr-u), which contains many practical, easy-to-follow recommendations for families, educators, community members and students. Many of them involve the use and abuse of social media.
• American Academy of Pediatrics’ report “The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents and Families (https://t.ly/HyBt).
The lawsuit reports that 90% of children ages 13-17 use some form of social media, as do 38% of youngsters ages 8-12 and 32% of children ages 7-9.
The lawsuit insists, “Defendants have successfully exploited the vulnerable brains of youth, hooking tens of millions of students across the country.”
For a thoughtful youth perspective, I asked Cole Stevens for reactions. Formerly a Bloomington, Minnesota, resident, he’s co-founder and vice president of Bridgemakers. This statewide student group successfully challenged the state of Minnesota to release federal funds available to help high school students laid off because of the pandemic. Stevens responded, in part:
“The data has undoubtedly been there for a long time that most social media platforms involve some form of exploiting the human dopamine system. This is… detrimental to your mental health and cognitive ability if you abuse it and most platforms encourage abuse.”
Stevens hopes that, if successful, some “damages (are) paid to youth and families.”
Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota responded: “While I can’t comment directly on this lawsuit, I know many educators are concerned about the effects of social media and excessive screen time on our students’ academic and emotional development. Information technology can be a powerful learning tool, but it can also be misused. I think most educators would encourage parents to monitor and limit, the amount of time young children spend on their screens when they’re at home.”
Tim Robinson, media relations lead in Seattle Public Schools, immediately responded to my questions about this lawsuit. Perhaps some districts will want to join the suit. Regardless of court decisions, Seattle and Kent are encouraging valuable conversations and providing helpful resources to educators and families.
Joe Nathan, Ph.D., formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org or @joenathan9249 on Twitter.
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