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Breaking the Social Media Trap: Experts Share How to Improve Mental Health

We've been cautioning parents about social media for a while, primarily due to the prevalence of pornography and predators. However, there's another critical point to consider — mental health harms.

Even the Surgeon General is calling for a warning label on social media.

A father’s drastic measure

We know of a father who reached his breaking point with his older daughter's constant engagement with her phone. She was so absorbed in her device that she barely interacted with the family. One day, while they were driving, the father was talking to her, but she wasn’t listening—her focus was entirely on her phone. Frustrated, he took her phone and threw it out of the car window! Later, he took away his younger daughter's phone as well.

Remarkably, the girls’ issues with anxiety and depression seemed to vanish. While we don’t recommend throwing phones out car windows, this story highlights the frustration many parents are experiencing with their children's attachment to social media.

The language of social media and its impact

Consider the following terms social media has introduced into our lexicon that contribute to poor mental health:

Influencer: This term implies that we are the influenced. Think about how constantly being influenced by others can contribute to feelings that none of us are good enough, a lack of self-acceptance, and a decrease in our wellbeing.

User: This term underscores our consumption role in the social media ecosystem. The term user is often used to describe someone who consumes something unhealthy, like a drug or tobacco user. In this case, social media can act like a digital drug.

Follower: Each social media user becomes followers of others. Consider this definition from Merriem-Webster for follower: One that follows the opinions or teachings of another, or one that imitates another. Those we follow online influence us with their opinions and teachings, for good or for bad!

Content consumer vs content creator: Most people on social media spend most of their time consuming content, rather than creating it. When consumption of social media consumes most of our time, what happens to our creativity and the boost in happiness that comes with it?

Social media users are the product for social media companies. And we become followers who are influenced. Users of a curated algorithm designed to capture our attention and feed us nonstop content that’s well documented to cause mental health harms, particularly to adolescents. Not to mention howInstagram's algorithm helped pedophiles seeking CSAM find young victims.

Experts weigh in how reducing social media improves mental health

Here is what various mental health professionals, doctors, and law enforcement have said about social media.

Jonathan Haidt: Impact of social media to adolescent mental health

Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist at NYU explains inThe Anxious Generation that the mental health of adolescents did not change significantly with the advent of the internet. The shift came with the rise of social media on smartphones equipped with front-facing cameras. This technology, unlike any before it, has profoundly shaped the experiences and mental health of this generation. Discussing the dangers of social media in a recent interview with Noema he said:

“Social media is entirely inappropriate for children, it cannot be made appropriate because what you’re basically doing is saying, ‘How about we let the entire world get in touch with you? Let’s let all the companies try to sell things to you, let men all over the world who want to have sex with you contact you, and try to trick you into sending photos.’ There’s no way to make this safe. So just recognize that social media is a tool for adults. Eleven-year-olds don’t need to network with strangers.”

Nicholas Kardaras: Disconnecting from tech significantly improves mental health

Nicholas Kardaras, Ivy-League educated psychologist, professor, clinical practitioner and one of the country’s foremost addiction experts with a treatment center in Austin, Texas discusses in Digital Madness the impact of technology addiction on mental health. He explains in a recent interview that increased screen time is linked to worsening psychiatric conditions such as Borderline Personality Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder, Tourettes, and others. He and his colleagues attribute these conditions to social contagion, where online communities can influence behaviors and symptoms, particularly in young people.

At his Austin treatment center, clients who disconnect from technology for several weeks often show significant improvement, suggesting that some apparent disorders may be mimicked behaviors rather than genuine conditions. This rapid improvement indicates that true Borderline Personality Disorder or Dissociative Identity Disorder, which are complex and persistent, may not have actually been present. He warned:

“As we continue to have our love affair with technology and increase our screen immersion we are getting more and more psychiatrically unwell.”


Dr. Justin Rowberry: Decreasing digital media use decreases anxiety and depression

Dr. Justin Rowberry, M.D., internationally recognized developmental behavioral pediatrician shared in an ​exclusive video series​ for Defend Young Minds:

“There’s been this debate on do people use too much digital media because they’re depressed, or are they depressed because they use too much digital media? What this study was able to do was they were able to see that yes, it’s the use of digital media. In fact, not just the use, but the overuse of digital media that correlated with higher amounts of depression. Now it is also true that the more depressed you are, the more social media you seek out, and so it is a bit of a spiral. Good news is taking those back to healthy levels decreases your symptoms of anxiety and depression.”

Officer Gomez on social media dangers

Officer David Gomez, renowned law enforcement officer, SRO (School Resource Officer), and collaborator with the Idaho Crimes Against Children Task Force often speaks out on social media. He has made the following statements:

Social media is grooming your kids to be worth their body parts. Parents will have to be very diligent about teaching their own family values and morals to their kids on a regular basis to compete with society.”
“At what age should I get my child a smartphone? When you are comfortable with them viewing pornography.
“Giving a child a smartphone introduces many more problems than it will ever get them out of.

Dr. John Condie on pediatric mental health diagnoses and medication

Dr. John Condie, MD, pediatric neurologist, presented at Save My Family alongside other experts. He described looking at the charts of pediatric patients when he returned to a practice he previously worked in after spending seven years in neural trauma. He was shocked to find children aged 11-13 on multiple adult antipsychotic and antidepressant medications like Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Abilify, Trazadone, and Zyprexa, which were completely foreign to him in that practice seven years prior. He explained:

“These were not medications that I was familiar with, that I had to deal with because when I was doing my general pediatric things seven years prior, kids were not on them. And the kids that were on them were seen by subspecialists. But it seemed like every third kid was on two, three, four of these medications that are meant for severe mental health issues. It breaks my heart to see a kid come in with a medication list that my grandfather in his end stage dementia wasn’t even on.

He also observed a concerning trend: many girls displaying sudden onset of Tourette’s symptoms, which regular treatments couldn't address. Investigations revealed a link to excessive TikTok use, where an influencer claiming to have Tourette’s seemingly triggered a wave of similar symptoms in viewers.

Tips to mitigate social media harms

When looking at these mental health harms coupled with the dangers kids encounter from porn and predators on social media, is it any wonder the Surgeon General is seeking a warning label? Or that lawmakers are pressuring Instagram and other platforms to halt their harmful algorithms for minors?

We are so glad to see national traction behind these issues. In the meantime, there are things you can do to mitigate the harms of social media to your child.

  • Delay. Our best advice is to delay social media until at least age 16 — longer if possible.
  • Roll back. If Pandora’s box is already open, you still have the power to take control. Each of the experts quoted above have clinical experience showing that rolling back social media improves mental health relatively quickly. It will be hard at first, but it can be done and the results will be worth it!
  • Monitor. When the decision is made to allow your child social media, be sure to monitor usage. Follow your child’s accounts, and use monitoring software like Bark (or the Bark phone) to alert you to threats such as bullying, self-harm, porn, and predators.

Learn more

We've written extensively on this topic. For more detailed guidance on protecting your child from the harms of social media, explore the following articles. You'll learn about the targeting of minors by social media companies, the impact on mental health, and actionable steps to protect your child.

Act today to improve your child’s mental health

You can take proactive steps today to combat the mental health harms in your child and other dangers associated with social media use. Following the expert advice above to delay social media exposure, roll back existing usage, and actively monitor your child's online activity will help reduce anxiety, depression, and other psychiatric issues. It will also foster a safer and healthier online environment for your child. 

Brain Defense: Digital Safety Curriculum - Family Edition

"Parents are desperate for concepts and language like this to help their children. They would benefit so much from this program - and I think it would spur much needed conversations between parents and children.” --Jenet Erikson, parent

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