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'Technology is good until it isn’t': Mesa senior’s visual essay examines social media effects on younger people

A Valley senior created a visual essay examining social media’s effect on young people months ahead of the Surgeon General’s latest advisory warning.

MESA, Ariz. — The U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy is so concerned about social media and its effects on youth mental health that he issued an advisory Tuesday, calling for action and more research.

The research stemmed from real-life observation of a Mesa graduating senior that led to a visual essay exploring that topic.

“I have seen a lot of my teammates, in particular, really struggle with putting down their phones,” Mariana Myers said.

Myers is a Red Mountain High School senior, a gymnast, and a coach. She created a 5,618 hand-drawn frame, animated visual essay for one of her classes a few months back.

“Technology is good until it isn’t,” Myers said.

It’s titled "Nomophobia – A Visual Essay" and depicts a character downloading social media.

“They get sucked into their phone, and they're looking around and they're floating in this magical place and they're clicking likes and everything and that's pushing out serotonin their mind,” Myers said. “But as they use it more and more and more, at the very end, they fall back into that same place. But now it's dark and it's destroyed, and now they're falling into a pit.”

Myers's video was on YouTube for months before the Surgeon General issued the advisory Tuesday concerning the negative effects on youth's mental health.

“In another friend group, where a lot of them struggled with eating disorders.. we were all kind of talking about why? Like – why was this a struggle? And a thing that had come up was social media. That was a big, big thing,” Myers said. “That may not have been the thing for me, you know, but in this group setting, it was a thing for a lot of people.”

Dr. Paul Croarkin, the director of The Mayo Clinic Children’s Research Center, believes social media effects on youth are a complex issue.

“There are real concerns related to the potential correlation between escalating mental health problems and suicide rates with teenagers, and social media and digital technologies in general,” Croarkin said.

However, Croarkin said that doesn’t mean social media doesn’t have positive effects.

“Some of them use these platforms in a very adaptive, healthy way to get support and it would be detrimental to limit that,” Croarkin said.

In research Croarkin and his colleagues have done, he’s found that there may be a correlation between social media use and self-harm or suicide attempts.

In another study looking at how 20 minutes on social media affected youth with depression and those not treated for any mental illness, Croarkin found those will depression were more affected.

“Depressed patients were a little more reactive in terms of that short time they tended to elevate stress markers,” Croarkin said.

The Surgeon General’s advisory finds that research lacks understanding of how social media use affects kids and teens and said more transparency is needed from technology companies. The advisory also calls for action from policymakers and technology companies.

In advice for parents, Croarkin recommends face-to-face interaction with kids.

“I think bringing it back to just parenting and factoring out the technology,” Croarkin said. “Trying to create space for quality time with your children. And being very mindful of: Are you available?”

Dr. Nusheen Ameenuddin, a pediatrician with Mayo Clinic Children’s Center in Minnesota, also recommends parents find out what platforms their kids are using online and how their kids feel when they use them.

“Because if kids are using social media and other ways to connect with others and it's something that makes them happy, I think that's a great thing to encourage and support to share their activity,” Ameenuddin said. “But if parents are noticing that their kids are feeling down about themselves if they're noticing that they're not getting enough sleep, if their mood - if their schoolwork is going downhill, then it's really time to intervene and to consider setting some limits.”

Coming from the younger generation, Myers said parents should look to help their kids find a balance.

“I would say that technology isn't evil, but if you're concerned, monitor it,” Myers said. “The idea is moderation.”

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