America Has a Teen Mental Health Crisis on Its Hands, Studies Say

The negative effects of social media on young people’s mental health is a top concern for many people, one study found.
America Has a Teen Mental Health Crisis on Its Hands, Studies Say
A teenager uses her mobile phone to access social media in New York City on Jan. 31, 2024. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Ross Muscato
2/10/2024
Updated:
2/10/2024
0:00

A high percentage of those likely to vote in the 2024 election feel that the emotional well-being of the nation’s teens is in peril, according to a research report released last month by a prominent organization that evaluates and rates the safety of media and technology for families.

The findings were included in the Common Sense Media report, “The State of Kids and Families in America 2024,” which looks at and explores the top concerns of voters and youth in America.

The report is another in a series of recent studies, among them those published in 2021 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Surgeon General, that testify to a teen mental health crisis across the country.

Common Sense Media based its report on an online survey of 2,000 likely 2024 voters nationwide that Lake Research Partners and Echelon Insights conducted from Nov. 15 through Dec. 3, 2023.

As detailed in the report, the worry about the mental health of teens is shared almost equally by Democrats, Republicans, and independents.

“These diverse audiences see a crisis for young people struggling with mental health issues,” Common Sense Media noted. “They also connect the dots clearly to schools and the need to expand access to mental health care within school settings.”

Common Sense Media stated: “The negative effects of social media on young people’s mental health is a top concern, including across party identification.”

It found that there is “broad support for a range of options to improve mental health outcomes, with the strongest support behind requiring health insurance companies to cover mental health care in the same way they cover other types of health care.”

When asked about their views on public schools, those surveyed ranked mental health as a top issue.

“For kids and teens, mental health struggles are by far (53 percent) the top ‘major problem’ they see in schools, particularly for girls and 15- to 17-year-olds,” said the study.

“For parents of children age 0 to 18, the biggest problems are the teacher shortage due to burnout (54 percent a major problem) and low pay and salaries (51 percent), mental health struggles among students (53 percent), and bullying (52 percent). For nonparents, the teacher shortage due to burnout is their top ’major problem' (53 percent).”

Commons Sense asked the likely voters: “Do you think that the following groups have adequate access to mental health care?” For children ages 12 to 14, 44 percent said the access was adequate, 31 percent said inadequate, and 25 percent said they weren’t sure. Those percentages for the age 15 to 17 demographic were, respectively, 44, 33, and 23 percent.

The percentages of those who feel that “mental health struggles among students” are a major problem were 54 percent of Democrats, 41 percent of Republicans, and 46 percent of Independents.

CDC and Surgeon General Reports 

In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published its “Youth Risk Behavior Survey.”

The CDC survey collected and reviewed 10 consecutive years of data on “health behaviors and experiences,” from 2011 through 2021, that even as the incidence of some teen conduct has improved, including risky sexual practices, illicit drug and alcohol use, and bullying at school—the prevalence of a variety of mental health problems have increased for this age demographic.

Also, in 2021, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a mental health advisory emphasizing and declaring a youth mental health crisis.  In the report, the surgeon general noted that the crisis predated COVID-19 but that the “pandemic has dramatically changed their world,” including the loss of a parent or grandparent to the disease; in-person time with friends; in-school classroom learning; access to mental health care, social services, income and missing out on important life events such as graduation ceremonies and sports competitions.
A teenager with a laptop in Arlington, Va., on June 11, 2021. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)
A teenager with a laptop in Arlington, Va., on June 11, 2021. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

The Epoch Times has reported extensively on the status of teen mental health in America, with stories giving considerable focus to the negative effects of social media and technology on the emotional well-being of this age group.

In his story, “Social Media: Fueling the Epidemic of Teenage Depression,” published on Oct. 6, 2023, in The Epoch Times, Vance Voetberg wrote: “Social media may perpetuate depression by doing the opposite of what it was allegedly created to do: enhance community and maintain friendships.”
The Common Sense Media study found that the “negative effects of social media on young people’s mental health is a top concern, including across party identification.”

Bullying—an Emotional and Physical Problem

Notwithstanding the CDC survey, which shows a decrease in bullying at school, high levels of bullying remain, as the concern of parents in the Common Sense study supports, and with cyberbullying dangerous and widespread, as Pew Research detailed in its study “Teens and Cyberbullying 2022.”

Of those Common Sense surveyed, 52 percent of Democrats, 45 percent of Republicans, and 54 percent of independents feel that in-person and cyberbullying is a “major problem” in the public schools in their communities.

Jennifer Fraser, a Canadian academic, author, and lecturer whose work centers on adolescent overall well-being, with a particular concentration on bullying in all its forms, sees many factors as negative influences on teen mental health.

Ms. Fraser, who has received renown for her scholarship and research, which identifies actual harmful neurological changes that bullying imparts to the brains of its victims, explores the subject in her book “The Bullied Brain.”
Jennifer Fraser is a Canadian academic, author, and lecturer. (Image courtesy of Jennifer Fraser)
Jennifer Fraser is a Canadian academic, author, and lecturer. (Image courtesy of Jennifer Fraser)

“The pandemic and isolation had a profound and negative effect on teens—emotionally and educationally,” Ms. Fraser told The Epoch Times.

“Several decades of peer-reviewed and replicated research teach us that brains need in-person interaction; brains do not develop in healthy physical ways without connection.”

She says that financial pressures contribute to isolation.

“What came up in the Common Sense report is that the financial situation of families is so stressful,” said Ms. Fraser.

“Both parents work, and both parents might have to do multiple jobs, and the family is still struggling, and you can see how this reduces the time that parents, children, and teens have together. ”

Ms. Fraser says that the brains of those in their teens and early 20s are particularly at risk for harm from bullying.

“During this period, their brains are undergoing intensive development, and they are laser-focused on peer relationships. This is why they are so susceptible to any form of bullying from adults or peers.

“They are striving—from a brain development perspective—to establish selfhood in their social standing and peer group.”