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Millcreek Journal

Granite School District discusses social media literacy at parent resource night

Apr 09, 2024 12:43PM ● By Lizzie Walje

Teaching students good media literacy habits can help them analyze information that they see online. (Stock Image)

In recent years conversations surrounding the importance of destigmatizing mental health issues, disorders and diagnoses have become substantially more commonplace. As a result, more and more school districts, both locally and nationwide, have begun to host community outreach events that focus specifically on mental health issues common amongst teenagers. 

In an attempt to help bridge the gap between parents and students, Granite School District recently held their own parent resource night, with the goal of helping educate parents on current issues their students might be facing, and how these issues may consequently affect their children’s mental health. Points of discussion included bullying, general mental health hygiene, substance abuse, and finally, internet safety.

While many of these issues have long existed in previous generations, students today are undeniably facing novel challenges that stem from having to navigate the pervasive presence of the internet and social media. Even though modern prototypes of the internet have been available to us for decades, never before has the internet and social media been so readily accessible and deeply entrenched into our cultural fabric. Social media, for all its benefits and advantages can also be extremely harmful. Particularly for those whose brains are still developing. 

According to a statistic provided by the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, 95% of teenagers aged 13 to 17 reported using at least one social media platform. Of those surveyed, more than a third reported that they use social media “almost constantly.” 

Over the past decade social media technology has become increasingly more sophisticated, and when used responsibly, it can be an excellent resource for people to find connection and expand their knowledge. However, many teenagers, and adults for that matter, often struggle to use social media responsibly. This often stems from a lack of social media literacy.

Media literacy is defined as “the ability to critically analyze stories presented by the mass media and to determine their accuracy and credibility.” Naturally, there are various skills that can help both teenagers and adults improve their media literacy, chiefly among them being reading comprehension. However, therein lies another issue, as recent data suggests reading comprehension scores are faltering nationwide. 

According to a 2022 New York Times article, about a third of children in our nation’s youngest grades are missing important reading benchmarks. Furthermore, in a study conducted by the University of Virginia’s School of Education and Human Development, researchers concluded that early reading skills were at a 20-year low, data that they deemed “alarming.”

Reading comprehension is a necessary skill for an abundance of reasons, but when it comes to social media specifically, reading comprehension is crucial because it helps students understand how to decode and analyze information. While the internet can serve as a gateway for individuals to amass knowledge and increase their global understanding, far too often the internet aids in the spread and propagation of misinformation. Far too many individuals do not know how to properly fact check, which often includes cross checking statements and statistics amongst multiple media outlets and sources.

As far as social media’s effect on mental health, the U.S Surgeon General warns against teenagers having too much exposure to online content due to a variety of reasons. According to a statistic provided by a peer reviewed study published in the Jama Psychiatry medical journal, teens who spend more than three hours per day on social media face double the risk of developing mental health issues. This makes sense when you compare it to another statistic pulled from a survey conducted by the Boston Children’s Digital Wellness Lab that revealed nearly half of teenagers aged 13 to 17 report that using social media makes them feel worse. Finally, Common Sense Media reports that more than 60% of teens are regularly exposed to hate-based content.

Social media and the internet at large can be dangerous for people of all backgrounds, races, and genders, however, there is data that suggests teenage girls are especially at risk of being solicited online. In yet another report by Common Sense Media, the organization found that many young girls reported they receive frequent unwanted contact initiated by strangers online. In fact, nearly six out of 10 girls who use Snapchat and/or Instagram, report that they’ve been contacted on those platforms by a stranger whose message made them uncomfortable. 

The Utah Department of Health and Human Services, recently reached out to Utah parents to get their perspective on raising children and teenagers in the digital age. Of those polled, 88% of parents believe that social media has a detrimental impact on our youth, in general. About 63% were concerned about how social media impacts their child’s mental health with 60% reporting that they were particularly worried about how social media affects body image. Finally, 94% of respondents said they uphold boundaries to ensure their children navigate social media with discretion. This included setting time limits, restricting certain content, and implementing age restrictions.  

Raising a child in the digital age is overwhelming and many parents feel understandably ill equipped to compete against the internet juggernaut. The internet and social media’s influence is undeniable, as never before in human history have teenagers and young adults been so inundated with never ending access to both information and misinformation. This in turn prompts many parents to ask a critical question. How do I protect my child?

For starters, Gov. Spencer Cox offers a local perspective by telling parents to “reconsider allowing your child to have social media and encourage them to wait to use it until they are an adult.” While this strategy may prove effective in some cases, given the widespread accessibility of the internet, it likely won’t be practical for a sizable percentage of families.

The U.S Surgeon General encourages parents to coopt a few different strategies that can include crafting a family media plan that sets firm boundaries for children but also leaves space for them to initiate a dialogue when they encounter various online content. Parents can also create tech free times and zones within the home, prompting children to be present and cultivate in-person relationships. Modeling appropriate online behavior can also greatly impact children, who are already likely to emulate their parents. The Surgeon General also stresses the importance of teaching and empowering children to use technology in a conscientious manner.

Finally, there are countless ways for parents to get involved in the crafting and implementation of local policy and legislature. As the internet continues to evolve, so will our need to craft policies that aim to protect our children online, especially with the advent of phenomena like cyberbullying. 

As for Granite School District’s contribution? They displayed their dedication to helping parents navigate these unique challenges by offering lectures and free mental health screenings for depression and anxiety at Granite Park Jr. High’s recent February Parent Resource Night.

To learn more about how to promote and foster healthy media literacy habits within your children and teenagers and yourself, you can always visit the Utah Department of Health and Human Services at andλ