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Author: Thomas P. Royer, Beech Brook President/CEO

Last week, social media CEOs were called before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify about the growing concern regarding the effects of social media on young people’s lives.

Senators interrogated CEOs of top social media companies about online child safety in an emotional hearing as they tried to get companies to back legislation restricting children’s access to social media.

Beech Brook has discussed social media and its impact on youth frequently over the past year. In fact, we created two courses to help parents deal with the issue, and even more data is coming out about the dangers of social media use. In 2023 alone, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says it received more than 36 million reports of sexual exploitation of children online. Professionals and parents cite bullying, body image problems, drug trafficking and suicides as tied to social media.

Cyberbullying—bullying that happens online—is on the rise. Increased use of the internet during the COVID-19 pandemic has further boosted this trend. But the links between cyberbullying and suicidal thoughts have not been researched as much as the effects of in-person bullying.

The unprecedented access today's youth have to the internet and technology carries many benefits, but it also increases the risks of cyberbullying, online predators, and suicide. The incidences of both cyberbullying and adolescent suicide are rising in the United States, with recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data showing that 14.9 percent of adolescents have been cyberbullied and 13.6 percent of adolescents have made a serious suicide attempt.

We know that suicide is the second leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults in the United States. In-person bullying is known to raise the risk of thoughts of suicide and attempts for both victims and perpetrators, so it only makes sense that online bullying would have the same results.

In addition, recent findings also suggest that cyberbullying victims are at higher risk of depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts and these effects persist for longer periods of time. Several recent suicides have also been tied to cyberbullying.

This is cause for concern.

Legislation that protects against online bullying has developed from antibullying laws, and as an expansion of the requirement that schools prohibit any bullying at school or via technology that interferes with learning. Cyberbullying laws exist in certain states, but as of now, there are no federal laws that address bullying or cyberbullying.

During the hearing, Senator Lindsey Graham said, “Mr. Zuckerberg, you and the companies before us, I know you don't mean it to be so, but you have blood on your hands. You have a product… You have a product that's killing people.”

I am happy that the Senate Judiciary Committee is taking this up as a bi-partisan issue and giving it the attention it deserves – let’s just hope they do something about it and pass real legislation to keep our kids safe. Until then, Beech Brook and other community organizations will continue to address the fallout from the steep decline in our children’s mental health as they spend more and more time online.

Concerned about your child's mental health?

Visit our Resources page for information on a range of topics relating to children and mental health.

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