Teens See Mental Health as Their Top Challenge, Survey Says

By Rebecca Paredes
January 31, 2024
Teen looking down at desk

Welcome to Parent Pixels, a parenting newsletter filled with practical advice, news, and resources to support you and your kids in the digital age. This week:

  • NYC Mayor Adams dubbed social media an “environmental health toxin,” and a new Common Sense Media survey finds that 20% of teens feel social media is the main cause of today’s youth mental health crisis — what does this mean for parents?
  • We share tips on how to monitor your child’s social media accounts and how to use parental control settings and apps that your kid can’t easily delete.
  • More updates to parental controls from Meta: Instagram will restrict strangers from sending unsolicited messages to teens, which feels like something that should have been implemented a while ago.

Digital Parenting

Today’s teens see mental health as their top challenge

Last week, New York City Mayor Eric Adams issued a health advisory about social media due to its impact on children. Mayor Adams designated social media an “environmental health toxin,” stating, “Companies like TikTok, YouTube, [and] Facebook are fueling a mental health crisis by designing their platform with addictive and dangerous features. We can not stand by and let big tech monetize our children's privacy and jeopardize their mental health.”

The health advisory aligns with findings from a recent survey published by Common Sense Media, which examined the state of kids and families in America in 2024. Based on responses from about 1,220 children and teens aged 12–17 nationwide, more adolescents are concerned about their mental health today than were previous generations. 

Some notable statistics from the survey:

  • 30% of kids and teens say the biggest problem they face today are mental health challenges. Girls were more likely than boys to say so (35% vs. 24%). 
  • 65% of teens rate the mental health of kids and teenagers in their community as just fair or poor.
  • 20% of teens feel the negative impact of social media is the main cause of today’s youth mental health crisis, followed by bullying and discrimination (18%). 

Social media isn’t the only factor impacting the youth mental health crisis. In a conversation with Education Week, Sharon Hoover — co-director of the National Center for School Mental Health — pointed to a range of factors that could be contributing to declining mental health among kids and teens, such as housing insecurity and food insecurity. These issues were exacerbated by the pandemic, to the point that living in an area with more severe COVID-19 outbreaks was deemed a risk factor for youth mental health symptoms.

Last year, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a health advisory warning that social media is a concern for adolescents. Excessive social media use is associated with depression and anxiety, as well as downstream effects from negative impacts on sleep quality. The key word here is “excessive” — it’s important for parents to set guardrails around the level of access kids have online, including how much time they spend on social media (and screens in general). 

Here are some places to start:

  • Have a conversation about limits and boundaries. Decide on screen time limits what work for your family, and explain why it’s a good idea to put down the phone before bed. Consider putting these rules into a digital device contract.
  • Use parental controls. Many major social media platforms have robust parental control settings that allow you to limit what your child sees and how much time they spend on the app. Use them.
  • Monitor your child’s online activity. Experts recommend monitoring social media accounts for kids under age 15, in part so parents can catch red flags before they turn into serious situations. 

Practical Parenting Tips

Social media monitoring 101: How to monitor your child’s accounts

Social media monitoring refers to supervising your child’s activity on social networks, such as Instagram and TikTok. The most effective plan for monitoring a child’s social media accounts employs a mix of approaches. Here are some options to explore.

Parental control apps and settings your kid can’t delete

A frustrating number of parental control settings are designed in such a way that kids can easily bypass or even change them, rendering them all but useless. Luckily, there are options which allow parents to set boundaries and have some peace of mind.

What’s Catching Our Eye

👀 Do social media insiders let their kids use platforms like Instagram and TikTok? Parents working at large tech companies said they did not trust that their employers and their industry would prioritize child safety without public and legal pressure, the Guardian reports.

📱 Meta has rolled out a few updates for teen users: new “nighttime nudges” will remind teens to go to sleep when they use Instagram late at night, and Instagram will restrict strangers from sending unsolicited messages to teens who don’t follow them. Meta will also allow guardians to allow or deny changes in default privacy settings made by teens.

🏛️ The Florida House has passed a bill to ban social media accounts for users under age 16. The bill doesn’t list which platforms would be affected, but it targets any social media site that tracks user activity, allows children to upload material and interact with others, and uses addictive features designed to cause excessive or compulsive use.

📍 With just a few pieces of information, this TikToker can pinpoint your exact location — and it’s a great lesson in online safety.

Parent Pixels is a biweekly newsletter filled with practical advice, news, and resources to support you and your kids in the digital age. Want this newsletter delivered to your inbox a day early? Subscribe here.

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