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Researcher says more real world time key to reversing troubling youth mental health trends

Apr 4, 2024, 4:25 AM

More time outside and off social media could help reverse the trend of poor youth mental health, on...

More time outside and off social media could help reverse the trend of poor youth mental health, one researcher says. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The chief researcher for a new book that tackles the growing prevalence of anxiety and other mental illnesses in youth believes the key to reversing those trends is more time in the real world.

Zach Rausch, researcher for “The Anxious Generation,” said the rise of availability of social media in the early 2010s pushed youth more into that world, leaving gaps that once weren’t there.

Anxiety and depression rates for undergraduates have risen more than 100% since 2010, according to a study from the American College Health Association.

“What we came to as a conclusion is that we’ve been overprotecting kids in the real world but underprotecting them online, so it’s the two of those forces together that we really think has been driving this crisis,” Rausch told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Outspoken with Bruce and Gaydos on Tuesday.

Rausch has ideas on how to bring children back into the real world.

The first is to limit or not allow social media use until 16 years old. A bill signed by Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, which will have legal challenges, banned social media accounts for children under 14 and required parental permission for 14- and 15-year-olds.

“We want to start to give kids back a little bit more independence and responsibility in the real world … that’s really where we learn to grow and develop competency,” Rausch said.

With children spending several hours a day, Rausch said that the effects are ending up similar regardless of gender.

“What we’re really calling for is that you can’t grow up in the virtual world,” Rausch said. “You need to grow up on Earth and with other people to develop those skills and so both boys and girls have been impacted differently.

“But in many ways we’re ending up with the same problem.”

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Researcher says more real world time key to reversing troubling youth mental health trends