HOLLADAY, Utah (ABC4) – State leaders are sounding the alarm again about the dangers of social media and the effects it has on kids and young adults, with Gov. Spencer Cox calling for school districts to push to eliminate cell phones in classrooms, among other proposals.
During a press conference on Monday at Bonneville Junior High in Holladay, Cox outlined that measure and several others to reduce some of the negative effects of social media.
“What would it feel like if teachers didn’t have to compete with that immediate gratification of Instagram for student attention?” asked Cox, speaking to an auditorium full of parents and PTA members on Monday morning. Cox, referencing a report from Mayo Clinic, said social media is negatively affecting teens – distracting them, disrupting their sleep, and exposing them to bullying, rumor spreading, unrealistic views of other people’s lives, as well as peer pressure.
During his address, Cox also called for holding social media companies more accountable by requiring stronger parental controls and permissions to create social media accounts. He also called on parents to model good social media behavior and to set reasonable limits. Cox said he believes in many cases kids and young adults are just mimicking what they see their parents do or are looking for acceptance via social media from their elders.
A 2016 study of more than 450 teens found that greater social media use, nighttime social media use, and emotional investment in social media — such as feeling upset when prevented from logging on — were each linked with worse sleep quality and higher levels of anxiety and depression.
“We set the example for our young people and it’s far too easy for people like me to say kids these days are messed up and spending way too much time and we as much if not more of the problem,” said Cox.
The Utah Office of Families (UOF), a recent establishment department in Cox’s office, is looking at ways of strengthening Utah families across the state. In some cases where there is a broken home or where young ones may be struggling with depression or mental health.
UOF Director Aimee Winder Newton, the department’s director says the impact of social media is a big focus for the governor’s office.
“Maybe they’re being bullied at school, maybe worried they don’t have enough friends or they’re lonely that needs to something they feel safe to have a conversation with their parents about,” says Winder Newton.
If we’re on our phones all day, and we’re telling them not to be, they’re going to watch what we do and not listen to what we say,” said Bonneville Junior High teacher and parent Elena Leppard.
Cox said he will be working with legislators, state and local school officials, the Utah PTA, and other groups in developing policy recommendations. He also said he will convene a symposium of stakeholders in the coming months.
Cox’s announcement coincides with meetings being held by the National Governors’ Association in Salt Lake City Tuesday and Wednesday. The meetings will focus on youth mental health.