Social media to blame for decline of mental health of youth, Gov Cox says

Jan 12, 2023, 9:00 PM

Next Thursday, Gov. Spenser Cox will deliver the 2023 State of the State Address to the Utah Legis...

Gov. Spencer J. Cox speaks the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. Gov. Cox and state business leaders recently returned from a trade mission to Europe. (Mengshin Lin/Deseret News)

(Mengshin Lin/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Earlier this week, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox hosted a symposium focused on social media and youth mental health.

On Thursday, the governor joined Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson to discuss the topic further. The symposium featured both national and local experts, including University of Virigina sociology professor Brad Wilson, who is a leading expert on family structure, civil society and culture influence.

“If you are a parent, a grandparent, if you are a teacher,” Cox said. “If you interact with youth at all, we know things are changing. And the data is just astounding.”

Cox says around 2010 when cellphones, smart phones and apps started becoming popular with youth, the mental health of youth went downhill at a very rapid rate.

“We have seen the rates of mental health decline in ways that nobody would have believed 10 years ago,” Cox said. 

Youth mental health a growing problem

The governor said areas of concern such as depression, anxiety and self-harm saw exponential increases, especially among young women. 

Cox says all the data points at social media and the damage it is doing to children.

“The longer they’re on their phones,” Cox said. “The more time they spend on social media, the worse off they are.”

He said many people are accepting the situation as normal. The governor said if the issue was something such as the rise of cancer rates in young people, many people would want to get to the bottom of the issue and find a solution.

“But because it’s cell phones,” he said. “We kind of shrug our shoulders and say, ‘Well, I guess this is the new normal,’ and it’s unacceptable.”

Cox said his administration is working with the legislature, state educators and parents to see what the state can do to hold social media companies accountable. 

Adults aren’t immune

However, the governor stresses this isn’t just a problem for children.

“And by the way, everything I say about kids also applies to adults,” he said. “But it just seems to be worse for our children as their brains are still forming.”

Cox says children aren’t making the connections that they need to be making. Children have had fewer face-to-face interactions than their parents had.

He says youth that are now going to college are socially on the level of a 15-year-old rather than that of a 19-year-old. 

“And all of these things are compounding in ways that are going to make it harder for them in the future,” the governor said. 

Cox says legislators are working on a few bills that will help parents deal with this problem. Additionally, he says age verification is critical, and will give parents more tools to help protect their children.

Furthermore, Cox says there will be some discussion if children under a certain age should even have a social media account.

He also stressed the importance of getting social media and cellphones out of the classrooms.

“Every teacher I talked to, every parent I talk to says it’s way past time that we start to do some of these things,” Cox said.  


Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson can be heard on weekdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.


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Social media to blame for decline of mental health of youth, Gov Cox says