Over the last 15 years, social media has permeated every aspect of our lives, especially the lives of teens. In recent years, social media’s harmful consequences have become apparent, and now is the time for Maine lawmakers to finally act to curb those consequences.

Research unequivocally shows that social media use adversely impacts the mental and social well-being of teenagers, regardless of gender. Anxiety, depression and various other mental health issues are on the rise among our youth, with digital interactions, social media and smartphones heavily implicated as the root cause.

The impacts of social media extend beyond mental health. Research consistently demonstrates a negative correlation between excessive social media use and academic performance among adolescents. Distractions from social media impede concentration, disrupt sleep patterns, and can contribute to school refusal. These all harm learning outcomes, adding to the significant challenges facing our educational system.

Central to the issue is the addictive nature of the attention economy and social media platforms. Designed to capture and retain users’ attention, these platforms employ sophisticated algorithms and features that exploit psychological vulnerabilities, keeping adolescents engaged, often despite intentions otherwise. The addictive nature of social media contributes to excessive screen time and “fear of missing out,” exacerbating the negative effects on adolescents’ well-being.

Compounding the problem is the “collective action trap“created by the attention economy. While individual parents may recognize the risks posed by social media, the fear of social exclusion and the pressure to conform prevent many from taking decisive action. No parent wants their child to be the one left out of social circles or excluded from peer interactions, a trap that perpetuates the cycle of excessive technology use.

Equally troubling is the diversion of teenagers from activities crucial for their development. Time once allocated to outdoor exploration, meaningful peer interactions, or even just daydreaming now evaporates in infinite scrolling and algorithm-recommended videos. The costs are not just in screen time, but more importantly in missed opportunities for growth and socialization.


In my 25-plus years in youth development, running a device-free summer camp for teenagers, I have witnessed first-hand the changes in adolescent social skills, time-use, independence and mental health. Not all of these changes can be laid at the feet of smartphones and social media, but my doctoral research at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service leads me to believe that digital technology bears a significant portion of the blame.

Maine has a long-standing tradition of enacting age restrictions on activities deemed harmful to adolescents’ well-being. Whether it’s driving cars, gambling, drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco, our state has recognized the importance of delaying access to these activities until individuals reach a more mature age. Applying this same principle to social media is not a ban but rather an effort to delay the age of first use to a more developmentally appropriate threshold. Research indicates 16 is probably the right age.

Yet Maine is one of but a handful of states to have not taken action to curb the harms arising from social media (alongside Louisiana, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Alabama). Our neighbors in New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts have taken steps, as have such disparate states as Florida, Maryland, California and Utah.

Maine cannot afford to delay action any longer. Let’s prioritize the well-being of our youth over the allure of technological convenience. By leveraging our state’s tradition of protective legislation and embracing evidence-based approaches, we can usher in a brighter, healthier future for Maine’s adolescents – one where they thrive both online and offline. Legislative action is essential, and should be complemented by concerted efforts to empower and educate parents and schools, and employ our state’s abundant outdoor resources to build real, healthy connections among Maine’s communities.

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