KTTH OPINION

Rantz: Seattle Public Schools damaged youth mental health, but blames social media

Jan 10, 2023, 8:43 AM | Updated: 10:54 am
seattle public schools...
A boy holds a smartphone in his hands, on which the logo of the short video app TikTok can be seen. (Photo by Jens Kalaene/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jens Kalaene/Getty Images)

Seattle Public Schools filed a lawsuit against social media companies arguing their services target kids and cause them to develop mental health issues. It’s a frivolous lawsuit meant to garner attention and, if they’re lucky, cover a portion of their budget the district doesn’t want to pay for. While the issue itself is worth a serious discussion, so too is the fact that SPS caused the very same issues in kids over the last three years. SPS quite literally forced kids to log onto the same computers and phones they used to access social media.

SPS argued TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat contribute to students’ mental health issues, including causing anxiety, depression, disordered eating, and cyberbullying. Consequently, these students struggle academically and require extra resources that the school district must pay for (specialized training to identify mental health issues, etc.). It’s a novel argument. Unfortunately, it also relies on us not remembering the significant damage SPS caused.

While social media does negatively affect youth (and adults), the recent surge in youth mental health issues is a direct result of school districts and teachers’ unions needlessly closing schools down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Making matters worse is indoctrinating kids on far-left views on race and gender that are threatening, shaming, and confusing.

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SPS tries to deflect the blame

Despite knowing young people were the least susceptible to adverse COVID outcomes while hearing from millions of parents witnessing their kids become more and more depressed from being stuck at home, SPS teachers dragged their feet in reopening schools. Many didn’t want the commute and liked the cushy job of pretending to teach from home. But if they were to return to work, they demanded higher pay and other concessions. They didn’t care they were keeping their students further in isolation; the suffering of students was for the greater good of meeting the demands of recalcitrant teachers’ unions.

Nationwide, emergency rooms saw at least a 24% increase in mental health-related visits from 5 to 11-year-olds in 2020 compared to 2021. For teens, it was a 31% increase. SPS will have you believe this is due to a kid watching videos on TikTok, when it was their disinterest in serving your kids and getting back to work that is more to blame.

Moreover, kids had much easier access to social media because SPS forced their students to stay online. And for a district that seems to loathe social media, they rely an awful lot on Twitter and Facebook to make important announcements concerning school issues, such as closures, event promotions, and holidays. Why is SPS conducting school business on these sites?

Social media is damaging; so is SPS

While there’s little doubt that social media can be unhealthy, you know what else can create adverse mental health outcomes for students? Telling white kids that they’re all part of a white supremacist culture where they permeate racism with their white privilege. It also doesn’t help to tell black kids that cops are roaming the streets of Seattle to kill them. Confusing kids about gender identity or helping kids keep secrets from their parents about gender confusion they’re going through (or that teachers are telling them they’re going through) probably doesn’t help their mental health, either.

How can SPS honestly say they can specifically prove that their students are struggling emotionally because of a social media site they may not even be using? SPS has no clue how much time a kid spends on any social media site. And they equally don’t know the exact problems individual students are experiencing. Will the district violate student privacy and pressure students into speaking publicly about the concerns they thought they were privately expressing to a school counselor? SPS can’t prove any of its claims, which is why its best shot is hoping for a settlement. But I can’t imagine the social media companies would be quick to settle since it would just invite equally frivolous lawsuits from every school district in the country trying to make a quick buck.

Schools should talk to students about the dangers of social media. It’s a worthwhile conversation and it could maybe reach some kids glued to Twitter or Snapchat. Ultimately, however, it’s a parent’s job to better police the amount of time their kids are spending in front of a screen. It’s not easy to stop a 16-year-old from using Instagram 24/7, but parenting isn’t easy.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show on weekday afternoons from 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast. Follow @JasonRantz on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook. Check back frequently for more news and analysis.

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Rantz: Seattle Public Schools damaged youth mental health, but blames social media