Stark Reality for Many CT Kids: Trauma, Social Isolation, Negative Impact of Social Media

February 15, 2024

This article by Sean Krofssik appeared in Hartford Courant on February 15, 2024.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy would like to see ‘significant regulations for social media.’

Murphy spoke of his concern for the way social media impacts young people as he and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz this week headed a roundtable on the impact of loneliness and social isolation on young people and children and what can be done to combat the growing problem. Also addressed were: trauma, parenting, education, violence and mental health.

Murphy and Bysiewicz are both linked to the topic. Last summer, Murphy introduced legislation to create a national strategy to combat America’s epidemic of loneliness and promote social connection in our communities. Murphy’s Bill is called the ‘National Strategy for Social Connection Act’; it was proposed in July.

On Feb. 8, Gov. Ned Lamont, Bysiewicz along with agency commissioners and advocates, announced the launch of a new campaign focused on combatting loneliness and social isolation in Connecticut.

Further, the National Library of Medicine concluded in a report on the topic that: “Young adults with high social media use seem to feel more socially isolated than their counterparts with lower SMU. Future research should focus on determining directionality and elucidating reasons for these associations.”

In a separate report on depression in children, the National Library of Medicine concluded showed that “Children and adolescents are probably more likely to experience high rates of depression and most likely anxiety during and after enforced isolation ends. This may increase as enforced isolation continues. Clinical services should offer preventive support and early intervention where possible and be prepared for an increase in mental health problems.”

These were all issues at hand at the roundtable this week held at The Village for Families & Children Murphy said one way to help address loneliness in children is to start with helping parents.

“I would start this conversation around how to help the parents to be in the position to help their kids connect and how to try to regulate technology and how to pull them away from it and how to make sure that activities exist for their kids,” Murphy said.

Murphy said he’s been talking about the issue for a better part of a year, and was pleased the governor and lieutenant governor focused on it.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz headed a roundtable on Thursday on the impact of loneliness and social isolation for young people and children and what could be done to combat the growing problem. The event was held at The Village for Families & Children Auditorium.

The father of two, Murphy said he’s experienced what it was like to see young people during the pandemic and young people on social media.

“It’s not surprising to see the statistics, especially for our young people how pessimistic we are and that it’s harder than ever to connect and make friends,” Murphy said. “Some reports have shown intense loneliness for some.”

“It’s relationships and connection to community that really is the thing that drives happiness and fulfillment,” Murphy said. “We do a poor job of trying to figure out ways to make policy can help find a connection. I’m looking to find how to make people feel more connected.”

Murphy noted that phones are designed to pull you away from experience of communication and connection.

“I’m a big believer in significant regulations for social media,” Murphy said. “For lower income communities there is just less opportunity to find that connection outside of the home for a number of reasons. Parents are working more hours than ever before. They have to work 70 hours a week today to make the same standard of living just a couple of decades ago. That means parents don’t have the time to stay as involved.”

Hector Glynn, the Village CEO, said the kids that come to his organization have suffered trauma.

“When they come to us it is so much harder to establish that connection,” Glynn said. “This issue of loneliness is an issue of resiliency and how we prepare this generation for everything in this crisis.”

“If you want to create less isolated kids, you have to create less trauma packed environments,” Murphy added. “The goal is connection and friendship, and you can’t get there without stopping facing traumas.”

Bysiewicz cited a report from last May by Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy of the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services – which called attention to the public health crisis of loneliness, isolation, and lack of connection in the country.

“One thing that stuck with me is when he wrote lack of social connection in your life is the health equivalency of smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” she said. “That’s how bad it is for people’s physical and mental health, and it increases the risks of major health problems.”

Hector Rivera, executive director of Our Piece of Pie, a Hartford organization that is dedicated to empowering youth to overcome barriers in education and employment, said “We focus on positive relationships and how you can get the maximum impact from those relationships.”

“It starts with connectivity to education and how you use that connected skill set in the future… We want them to want to become examples to their peers,” Rivera said.

Compass Youth Collaborative CEO Jacquelyn Nazzaro said her staff is trained on cognitive behavior theory. CBT is defined by the Mayo Clinic as: working “with mental health in a structured way, attending a limited number of sessions. CBT helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.”

“We are always thinking about that social connection,” Nazzaro said. “They are stuck to their phones and how do you get them to focus on something else like education? Having that CBT background has been such a factor in how we respond to our kids. Our staff is relentless in its approach and that’s a key piece.”

Carl Hardrick, of Brother Carl Hardrick Institute, said the biggest influence is the kids knowing how much you care.

“You are dealing with them inside the school, and we are dealing with them outside of school,” Hardrick said. “How do we connect this? We can’t do it all. Twenty percent of the kids are going to sell drugs or do drive-bys. Twenty percent are studying hard in the classroom and 60 percent in the middle leaning towards the negative. Our job is to get at that 60 percent and bring them right.”

Department of Children and Families Behavioral Health Community Services Division Administrator Dr. Frank Gregory said it was important to have people in the local community speak.

“It was great to hear the people who are really connected with the children,” Gregory said. “We see the consequences of this every day. The forces that divide us and the day-to-day challenges in living that so many people are experiencing.”

Lifelong Hartford resident Jendayi Scott-Miller, CEO of Angels of Edgewood, said stepped to the forefront following on behalf of fellow Hartford resident Zina Brathwaite after Brathwaite’s car was stolen and crashed. One of the three children in the car died. After that Scott-Miller called for action when it comes to kids and crime, including legal reforms and better oversight from parents.

“I’m glad my words didn’t go in vain,” Scott-Miller said. “To hear that Senator Murphy and… Bysiewicz saw the story on the news last week on youth crime and how they want to be more involved – it’s just empowering and encourages me even more. Because when you do this day after day you feel it falls on deaf ears, but it didn’t, and I think with me bringing these situations to light was very important,” Scott Miller said.

Scott-Miller added that she and many nonprofits are badly underfunded, and she is concerned about the end of the free meal program for Hartford area schools.

“What about those who can’t afford it? This is going to be truly traumatic,” Scott-Miller said. “We have to remember that free lunch may be their only meal of the day. We have to think about the parents’ living paycheck to paycheck and they have to think about whether they have to keep a roof over their heads or keep gas in the cars or feed their kids.”

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