Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham talks to News-Press about legislation
Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham is confident the momentum and sense of urgency exist to enact protections for young people from potentially harmful impacts of social media.
A bipartisan bill from Assemblymember Cunningham, R-San Luis Obispo, and Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, requiring companies to enact greater protections for minors unanimously passed out of the Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee earlier this month. The legislation is meant to protect children from harmful content or experiences online, the sponsors have said.
And then there’s another bill from the duo that would allow parents to hold large social media companies liable for knowingly allowing a platform to become addictive to children and causing harm. This legislation is before the Judiciary Committee next week.
Both bills are before lawmakers at a time when there’s an increased focus on the mental health of young people throughout the country.
A recent national survey from the nonprofit ParentsTogether found about 80% of parents believed their children would have improved mental health if they spent less time on social media.
The results of the survey should “impart an even greater sense of urgency,” regarding his legislation, Assemblymember Cunningham told the News-Press — albeit, he believed the number of concerned guardians should be even greater than 80%.
“I do think the momentum is on our side,” Mr. Cunningham said. “We do have a lot of legislators who have kids who are young. … We all have the sense that we need to do more and there need to be incentives in the system for these companies not to create a bunch of addicts among our kids.”
“As the mother of two daughters, I grapple with how harmful the social media landscape can be to our children’s health and well-being — especially that of young girls,” Assemblymember Wicks previously said. “For every parent like me who is anxiously watching their children grow older in the digital world, there are millions of others whose teens (and often, even younger kids) are already experiencing the mental health impacts of a system that has a moral responsibility to protect them.”
Aside from legislative efforts, Rachael Steidl, executive director and founder of YouthWell in Santa Barbara, encouraged parents to become the influencers.
“As role models, if we want our young people to do social media differently or spend less time on their devices, we need to be modeling that,” Ms. Steidl told the News-Press.
Additionally, she encouraged adults and youth alike to start “giving ourselves permission to unfollow people who don’t make us happy” to improve mental health.
There’s a mounting call to address mental health among youth in the U.S. A front-page story in the Sunday edition of The New York Times said teenagers in the country are facing a “life or death” mental health crisis.
Experts have pointed to a cornucopia of reasons: isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, body image issues exploited by social media, online bullying and harassment and desocialization due to addiction to games or other online activities.
In 2019, prior to the pandemic, about 13% of children from 3 to 17 in the U.S. had a diagnosed mental or behavioral health condition. Anxiety was most common, followed by behavior disorder and depression, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration and National Survey of Children’s Health report.
In Santa Barbara, about 20% of youth from 13 to 18 live with a mental health condition, according to YouthWell. Santa Barbara County is ranked No. 18 out of 58 counties in California for high suicide rates with suicide being the second leading cause of death among people from 10-24, according to YouthWell.
“The challenge has been that youth mental health issues have been increasing since pre-pandemic. However, the pandemic really pushed a lot of things over the edge with isolation,” said Ms. Steidl.
She said there are not enough resources, including therapists and programs, to help youth in the community, regardless of socioeconomic status or other demographics. The problem exists across the board.
“When it comes to youth mental health, all of our youth are … at risk because we’re not able to connect them with enough services,” Ms. Steidl said.
“There’s such a difference with this generation with what they’re navigating with devices, with social media, with politics the last five years plus with so many social justice issues, climate issues coming at young people that I would say previous generations haven’t had to experience in the same way,” Ms. Steidl said. “Then you add COVID, and it’s across the board with not having normalcy.”
Ms. Steidl encouraged parents and young people to advocate for themselves and their loved ones. She also recommended Youth Mental Health First Aid workshops, a training course for individuals over 18 who would like to be able to support a young person with a mental health challenge. The courses, which she likened to a CPR class, are offered both in-person and virtually.
“My biggest advice for parents — and this is from both the work I do and being a parent — is do everything you can to educate yourself, to better understand what mental health challenges can look like so you can recognize the signs and gain the tools to both help your child and model what self-care looks like and improve ways to communicate,” Ms. Steidl said.
YouthWell has a resource directory which can be found here: youthwell.org/business-directory.