Assemblymember Wallace: We Need to Educate Kids on Harms of Social Media

As growing research shows social media use harms young people’s mental health, Assemblymember Wallace proposes legislation to create public awareness campaign, education curriculum on risks

Today, Assemblymember Monica Wallace (D-Lancaster), joined by education professionals and mental health experts, announced her legislation to raise awareness about the dangers of social media use.A growing body of research shows that excessive social media use is correlated with increasing mental health issues among teens. Examples of these findings include:

  • Young people who spend more than three hours a day on social media are susceptible to depression, anxiety and other illnesses.[i]
  • 40% of teens who reported feeling body image insecurity said Instagram made the issue worse.[ii]
  • 37% of teens reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, which represents a 40% increase since 2009.[iii]
  • 45% of teens reported being online “almost constantly.”[iv]

Policymakers and educators have recently proposed solutions to the youth mental health problems exacerbated by social media. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy recently said that age 13 is too young to begin using social media. And in the State of the Union address, President Biden acknowledged the rise in mental health challenges among young people and called on Congress to enact legislation to prohibit tech companies from collecting data from or targeting advertisements toward teenagers.

Some school districts, including the Cheektowaga-Sloan Union Free School District, have implemented their own curriculum on social media, in response to mental health and behavioral problems fueled by social media. But the lack of a statewide requirements on this education leaves many young New Yorkers unaware of the negative impacts of social media.

“By now, it’s clear to researchers, educators, parents, teenagers, and even tech companies that social media use is harmful to young people’s mental health. Teenagers are still developing their sense of self and their maturity, which means they are particularly susceptible to the cyberbullying, misinformation, unattainable beauty standards, and hate speech that is far too common on social media feeds,” said Assemblymember Wallace. “Just like we educate kids on the harms of tobacco, drugs and reckless driving, it’s time to teach them about the harms of excessive or irresponsible social media use.”

“Educators in the Cheektowaga-Sloan School District have observed the unfortunate negative impacts that social media is having on children, specifically their mental health,” said Andrea Galenski, Superintendent of the Cheektowaga-Sloan Union Free School District. “Children have enough stress in their young lives with peer relationships, clubs, sports, and academic work. The additional stress of misinformation, inappropriate comments, gossip, and just mean behavior on social media leads many children to become overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, and isolated. While we do our best to teach our students to use social media safely and appropriately, more education is needed in this area to raise awareness.We thank Assemblymember Wallace for leading this effort to educate and empower young people to maintain positive mental health.”

Assemblymember Wallace’s legislation would direct the New York State Education Department, Office of Mental Health, and Office of Information Technology Services to create a public awareness campaign on the negative effects social media can have on a young person’s mental health as well as available resources and strategies to cope with feelings of anxiety, depression, and isolation. Additionally, the legislation would require the state Education Department to include age-appropriate instruction on social media usage and its potential impacts during grade school.

"Social media is not all good or all bad for young people and families, but it has real impacts on our kids' lives,” said Dr. Sourav Sengupta, Program Director for the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship at the University at Buffalo. “Just like any other complex experience we need them to master - think healthy eating habits, safe driving, navigating substance use - we as parents, educators, clinicians, and community leaders need to be engaged. Assemblyperson Wallace’s proposed legislation to establish a public education campaign focused on the mental health impacts of youth social media use will be a great next step towards building a healthier relationship with social technologies for our kids and for all of us."

“Although not all mental health concerns among young people can be linked to technology use, it is important to recognize the growing numbers of children impacted by these issues,” said Dr. Keith Klostermann, a mental health counselor at Wheatfield Pediatrics and a contributing faculty member at the School of Counseling at Walden University. “Research finds that one in every five children between the ages of 13 and 18 have, or will have, a serious mental illness before they reach adulthood. Screen time and social media use among kids and teens have been linked with an increased prevalence of mental health concerns and can have negative implications for social skills development, emotional well-being, family functioning, and academic performance.”

Assemblymember Wallace has a long track record of prioritizing children’s mental health and working to protect young people from big tech. She previously passed legislation to prevent the closure of the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center and secured funding for the Maryvale Union Free School District to hire a social worker. In 2021, she passed legislation to temporarily pause and study the use of facial recognition technology in schools, amid concerns about students’ personal data and civil rights and the technology’s tendency to misidentify women, children and people of color at disproportionately high rates.