Mental health crisis: Why Seattle schools are suing 4 social media giants

District leaders intend to hold social media executives accountable for 'the harm they have wreaked on the social, emotional, and mental health of students.'

Seattle Public Schools leaders have zeroed in on their key culprit for the youth mental health crisis: social media. More specifically, they are demanding action from TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook—the social media giants whose networks are most heavily used by students.

The district has filed a lawsuit against those four companies, with leaders saying they intend to hold the executives accountable for “the harm they have wreaked on the social, emotional, and mental health of students.”

Seattle administrators have placed social media at the root of a mental health crisis that saw growing well before the COVID outbreak in 2020. “Our students—and young people everywhere—face unprecedented, learning and life struggles that are amplified by the negative impacts of increased screen time, unfiltered content, and potentially addictive properties of social media,” Superintendent Brent Jones said in a district statement.

Nearly 50% of teenagers in Washington spent between one and three hours a day on social media, with 30% averaging even longer. Meanwhile, one in five children aged 13 to 17 now suffers from anxiety, depression, thoughts of self-harm, suicidal ideation and other mental health problems. Those disorders are being exacerbated by “excessive and problematic use of social media,” Seattle Public Schools noted.

Seattle Public Schools demands action

Screen time logged by youths 18 and younger increased by more than 50% during the pandemic, with the biggest increase seen among kids aged 12 to 18 years and for users of handheld devices and personal computers, according to an analysis published late last year by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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“Pandemic recovery initiatives should focus on fostering healthy device habits, including moderating use, monitoring content, prioritizing device-free time, and using screens for creativity or connection,” the authors of the analysis wrote.

While Seattle’s schoolchildren are bearing the brunt of the crisis, the district’s counselors, social workers, psychologists, and nurses are being overwhelmed by the demand for student mental health care. Like many districts, Seattle Public Schools’ site-based clinics are one of the main providers of student mental health services.

And even though Seattle Public Schools has received an increase in funding for mental health services, administrators are contending that “taxpayers should not bear the burden for the mental health crisis social media companies have created.” “By taking aim at the social media companies, we are sending a clear message that it is time for them to prioritize the health of children over the revenues they make from advertising,” School Board President Brandon Hersey concluded.

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Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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