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By Craig Braack

Poll results: How do we reverse alarming mental health trends ?

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The dawn of social media, smartphones has created a crisis for teens and families

By Andrew Harris

Most social media platforms are designed to exploit a major flaw in human psychology: The need to be accepted and validated. Let’s face it, we are insecure creatures, worrying about whatever is going on with life, and what our family, friends, co-workers think of us. It starts in early childhood, the need to have our parents/grandparents/older siblings approval, or at least a strong desire to avoid their disapproval. This transcends into our friends, lovers, employers, and even perfect strangers.

In the old days, we really only recieved immediate validation or rejection from those very close to us. Likes, wows, smiles, frowns, and direct messages came with a hug, a high five, a chide, or even sanction like “you’re grounded.” We didn’t ask what the neighbors thought, and if they had an opinion, it was rarely directly communicated. Total strangers were rarely part of our validation/affirmation cycle unless you got a nice comment on the street like, “Hey I love that hat!!”

Now we are largely connected by computer systems with a pretty interface like Instagram. Those interfaces survive on exploiting that human frailty, or desire for recognition and approval. Just this morning, I checked the likes, comments, and shares on my social media activity yesterday. I was pleased to see that dozens of people were interested and “liked” what I found to be important. A few of the comments made me wonder though, made me second guess my narrative, if only for a second. I’ll go back later and check again, look and see if anyone “new,” has given me a thumbs up.

I’m a middle-aged man, with most of my insecurities behind me. But a 15 year old young lady? Already in a natural state of uncertainty and change, a major part of my life is social media, and anxiety. These young people are stuck in the mentality of a 9th grader on the first day of high school for all waking hours. We can all recall the feeling of a older kid either extending kindness or being ruthless, moreso the former. That fear of not being accepted, or worse alienated, is now a constant emotional battle for today’s teenager. The results are horrific: Mass depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, self harm, family chaos, and more often then ever we see kids killing themselves.

How do we fix this? Our recent poll asked for some suggestions from readers and the answers were not surprising:

These results don’t offer any real solution but does offer two key takeaways. Most people believe that letting young children use social media is a first step. It is also very clear that readers do not think the government should be part of the solution.

One item that I can’t understand is that only 11% of votes think that cell phones(and presumably social media) should be kept out of schools. Kids, especially teens, can be ruthless and use phones/texts/emojis to quietly bully each other. Going back to that hallway as a 9th grader, can you image your former best pal taunting you for your new sneakers and yelling out something like, “Hey nice Tik-Tok video last night loser, only 4 people even watched it.” The popular kids get all the likes, views, and shares while the less social, possibly less confident kids get a digital validation that they are somehow inadequate. Almost every facet of teenage social life has become magnified by texting, liking, sharing, and commenting.

As a parent, the situation seems harder as technology grows and kids get older. We haven’t even witnessed what impact artificial intelligence will have on the situation.

Here is a very recent and comprehensive guide for parents to help with keeping kids safe online and managing the downsides of social media.

Hart’s Jewelry in downtown Wellsville sponsors our regular poll questions. If you can’t make it to the store, visit thier new website!!

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