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Escalating social media use is creating a generation of depressed and anxiety-ridden teenagers. In tonight's In-Depth Report, Church Militant's Kim Tisor examines the extent of the problem and what can be done.
The 1970s thriller When a Stranger Calls contained the famous line "Have you checked the children?" That question is more important today than in previous generations. That's because today's youth are battling a widespread, insidious foe.
Debra Houry, M.D., acting deputy director, CDC: "Over the past decade, teens, especially girls, have experienced dramatic increases in experiences of violence and poor mental health and suicide risk."
A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed disturbing mental health trends among adolescents, but it didn't pinpoint the cause.
A Tufts University professor who observed the same trends three years ago hypothesized that without a biological explanation, there had to be a cultural one. He suggested a rise in social media use was to blame for skyrocketing depression and suicide rates.
Nassir Ghaemi, M.D., professor, Tufts University: "As a culture, we have to realize we have a problem, and we have to figure out how to fix it. We basically need to get children to wait, just like they've waited to drive. They wait to drink; they need to wait to responsibly use social media."
Today's teenagers spend an average of eight hours per day using their smartphones, where they're exposed to sexual content, predators, images and information that can erode their self-esteem.
Many parents admit protecting their children is difficult. According to the Institute for Family Studies, 80% of parents favor a law requiring tech companies to get parents' permission before allowing minors to open social media accounts.
Last week, the Supreme Court suggested Congress would be best suited to update existing laws governing online safety.
Justice Elena Kagan, U.S. Supreme Court: "I mean, we're a court. We don't really know about these things. You know, these are not like the nine greatest experts on the internet."
The comment came during hours of testimony from families targeting Big Tech companies that they say should be held liable for harmful content that ultimately harmed their kids.
Tawainna Anderson, concerned parent: "Make sure you're checking your kids' phones. Just pay attention because you never know what you might find in their phones."
Parents can't be with their children 24/7, but they can make them wait to get their own smart devices, limit their screen time and urge lawmakers to enact communication policies that protect teens' mental health.
The Institute for Family Studies suggests most legislation aimed at preserving parental rights is best pursued at the state level. The institute explains that state lawmakers are closer to families and communities than elected representatives in D.C.