Liberty Nation GenZ: News for Kids

News and Current Events Through the Lens of America’s Founding Principles

🔍 Search

How Social Media Is Hazardous to Generation Z – and Beyond

Among other things, it is changing politics.

By:  |  April 26, 2024  |    940 Words
GettyImages - 1454811584 social media

(Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

“Our children are going on a conveyor belt,” social psychologist Jonathan Haidt recently said. “And a lot of them are getting shredded.” This is in reference to the declining state of mental health among teens, which he claims started after the iPhone became widely used and Instagram was created. He sees one particular social media platform as the biggest devil, however: “TikTok is arguably the worst consumer product ever invented.” Haidt isn’t alone in the belief that spending a significant portion of life online is hazardous to mental health – especially for Generation Z, those who spent their childhood in the age of social media.

Social Media and Its Impact on the Gen Z Population

Gen Z members were born between 1997 and 2012 and were the first generation to be so deeply integrated into social media. “My argument is that between 2010 and 2015, adolescent life was rewired,” Haidt told Politico. He explained that, in 2010, flip phones were the thing. They didn’t have high-speed data and you had to pay for each text, which meant most young kids were not online all day long. But then came Instagram and front-facing cameras on the phones, coupled with unlimited data plans and multiplayer online games. Mr. Haidt concluded:

“For all these reasons, for adolescents in 2010, [tech] was not terribly harmful. But by 2015, it was. At least that’s the conclusion I came to from looking at the timing [of mental illness spikes] in America and internationally, and the timing of technological change.”

A recent Gallup and Walton Family Foundation report found that Gen Z people, who are roughly between the ages of 12 and 27, have the poorest mental health of any modern generation. Is social media a large contributor? Mr. Haidt explained how kids took their social lives online, with girls on sites such as Instagram and boys tuned into video games: “That’s exactly when the epidemic of loneliness accelerated,” he claimed. “Girls are suffering more depression and anxiety; boys are suffering more loneliness and friendlessness.”

GettyImages-883746006 phones

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

A Gallup poll from October 2023 showed that 51% of American teenagers spend at least four hours daily on social media. Seven platforms – including YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, X, and Instagram – were tested. On average, survey participants spent 4.8 hours per day with these services. Girls spend about an hour more than boys, the survey found, 5.3 hours vs 4.4 respectively, and older teens spent slightly more time online than younger.

Some social media outlets are being called out for having “addictive traits” which include “infinite scrolling,” autoplay videos and live-streaming, reactions such as likes, and push notifications. Because of these qualities, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) recently signed HB 3, which prohibits children 13 and younger from accessing platforms with these characteristics.

Depression, Anxiety, and Politics Among the Young

While the Gen Z population is suffering from depression, mainly because of loneliness, the biggest problem, according to some specialists, is anxiety. The younger generation seems afraid of everything now. “If anxiety is the normal state of affairs for a generation, they’re going to be much more sensitive and they’re going to find many more events threatening,” Mr. Haidt explained. He referenced Karen Stenner’s work, a political scientist who specializes in political psychology, saying:

“When people feel threatened and when they feel that society is fragmenting, that triggers the ‘authoritarian dynamic,’ as she calls it – it activates authoritarianism. A population that is anxious, afraid and threatened is going to be more open to a strongman, to an authoritarian leader, to someone who promises to stop the chaos and stop the threats.”

When it comes to politics, the way information is shared on these services is cause for alarm, as well. According to Haidt:

“When 9/11 happened, Americans generally came to the conclusion very quickly that al Qaeda had attacked us. But if that happened tomorrow, we would not come to such a conclusion. We’re no longer able to agree on basic facts about what is happening or what happened. Now, none of this is the fault of Gen Z. This is happening to people of all ages. But if you are raised to political consciousness in a fragmented world where you can’t believe anything, where the Russians are messing with us and trying to get us to believe that we can’t believe anything, it’s going to make it tougher to become vibrant, engaged democratic citizens.”

In 2022, “The Politics of Depression,” a study published by Science Direct, showed that left-leaning teens experienced an increase in depression compared to their conservative peers. The group of epidemiologists at Columbia found that girls are more likely to be depressed than boys in general, but liberal boys actually had the highest rate of depression. While there are many reasons attributed to this, including politics, social media access and participation is a favorite culprit among psychologists.

The Gallup and Walton Family Foundation Report found that only 44% of Gen Z respondents said they felt prepared for the future, and an ongoing study at Montclair State University found that they perceive the world as more dangerous than the older generations. “They’re more likely to feel anxiety about extreme weather,” Axios reported. “Active-shooter drills became the norm while they were in school. They’re entering the workforce loaded with student debt while the cost of housing and other basic needs continues to soar. And AI poses an existential threat to jobs and careers they’ve only just begun.” All of this is shared over and over on social media platforms as people look for ways to validate their lives and find others who can relate.

Share this Article

Behind the News

Digging Deeper