Juvenoia and Moral Panic

May 11, 2021

Parents, Check the Sources That Some Presenters Quote

Very recently, we sat in on a free Zoom event that was being hosted on the topic of “Internet Safety for Parents.” The presenter was using a lot of news reports to support their concerns that the increased use of social media is resulting in the declining mental health of teens. As this presenter continued, they flashed a slide with a quote, with no citation, from what they identified as a “study” from an organization called the, California Institute of Behavioral Neuroscience & Psychology. This quote was clearly being used to support the presenter’s suggestion that social media is the cause for the decline in youth mental wellness; here’s the quote:

“Both the quantity and quality of social relationships affect mental health, health behavior, physical health, and mortality risk… People who spend more time in sedentary behaviors such as social media use have less time for face-to-face social interaction, both of which have been proven to be protective against mental disorders”

This slide, combined with the juvenoic clickbait media reports that this presenter was using repeatedly in their presentation, would leave any parent exiting the Zoom presentation in a state of moral panic over their child’s use of social media.

What is juvenoia? according to sociologist Dr. David Finkelhor it’s the,

“Exaggerated fear or hostility directed by an older generation towards youth culture that causes a moral panic” (1)

What is a moral panic? According to psychologist Dr Rachel Kowert,

“It’s an irrational approach to observable and quantifiable phenomena that can be understood separate from subjective evaluation” (2)

We speak to the issues and challenges of juvenoia and moral panic, including the academically peer-reviewed research citations that support our thoughts on these two issues, and how they can negatively affect a parent’s perception of social media in our FREE web-book, Parenting in An Online World (3).

When the presenter flashed the above-noted quote from the California Institute of Behavioral Neuroscience & Psychology with no citation, we decided to see if we could actually find the study where the quote was taken from. To find the actual study, and because the presenter did not supply a citation, we sought out to locate the California Institute of Behavioral Neuroscience & Psychology” (CIBNP) to see if we could find it there. We learned that the CIBNP was not an accredited post-secondary college or university, but rather a storefront private LLC company that specializes in teaching academics how to write and publish research papers (4). Thankfully, we were able to locate the paper on the CIBNP site (5).

After reading the actual literature review, we were able to locate the paragraph where the quote, that spawned this article, was acquired from; as we thought, the presenter actually took things out of context of what was actually stated in the academic paper. Here’s the paragraph from the actual academic literature review that the quote was taken from:

Impact on mental health

Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which people understand their abilities, solve everyday life problems, work well, and make a significant contribution to the lives of their communities [8]. There is debated presently going on regarding the benefits and negative impacts of social media on mental health [9,10]. Social networking is a crucial element in protecting our mental health. Both the quantity and quality of social relationships affect mental health, health behavior, physical health, and mortality risk [9]. The Displaced Behavior Theory may help explain why social media shows a connection with mental health. According to the theory, people who spend more time in sedentary behaviors such as social media use have less time for face-to-face social interaction, both of which have been proven to be protective against mental disorders [11,12]. On the other hand, social theories found how social media use affects mental health by influencing how people view, maintain, and interact with their social network [13]. A number of studies have been conducted on the impacts of social media, and it has been indicated that the prolonged use of social media platforms such as Facebook may be related to negative signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress [10-15]. Furthermore, social media can create a lot of pressure to create the stereotype that others want to see and also being as popular as others.

It would appear that the presenter used the underlined part of this paragraph as a quote that was used in the presentation. However, if you actually read the paragraph noted above, a study referenced by the authors of this review, and identified in footnote #11, found:

“Results revealed that increased time spent on social media was not associated with increased mental health issues across development when examined at the individual level. Hopefully these results can move the field of research beyond its past focus on screen time.”

In footnote #14, another study cited by the authors found:

Three themes were identified. First, social media appears to have potential to promote positive mental health. Second, adolescents frequently utilize social media and the internet to seek information about mental health. Finally, there are benefits and challenges to using social media in this way. We conclude that despite challenges of using social media and the risks, social media does offer a useful way of educating and reaching adolescents to promote mental wellbeing. (7)

Both of these peer-reviewed studies, which were published in well-respected academic publications, actually do not support the juvenoic message, surrounding the decline in mental wellness, that the presenter was attempting to convey in their presentation, in an attempt to support their narrative.

There are several other current academic research publications that also support the above noted studies, which also do not support the presenter’s narrative:

· 2021 Oxford peer-reviewed study that was published in February that stated in its conclusions (8).

“overall, there was little to no evidence showing that technology is becoming more negatively associated with mental health over time.

· 2021 peer-reviewed longitudinal study that was published in April that stated in its conclusion (9),

“… results do not support policies intended to encourage or discourage media use because of effects on well-being.”

· Here’s another 2021 peer-reviewed Oxford University study that was published in May that found little association between technology use and mental health. (10)

“There is therefore little evidence for increases in the associations between adolescents’ technology engagement and mental health.”

None of these academically peer-reviewed studies, or any other respected cited study, was mentioned in this presenter’s Zoom event, only a plethora of juvenoic news articles that supported a negative “causation” narrative.

Are there emotional, psychological, physical, and social challenges associated with an unbalanced onlife approach to social media use by teens? Yes, there are; we speak to many of these challenges, and the reputable cited studies that support this fact, that parents and teens need to be aware of including,

· Problematic Internet usage

· Health and wellness challenges such as obesity and hygiene

· Eyestrain

· Sleep deprivation

· Academic/work challenges

· Access to inappropriate language, behaviour, violence, sexism, and racism

· Cyberbullying

· Privacy

However, don’t believe all of the clickbait juvenoic hype associated with social media, and its negative effects on mental wellness, as being “the” cause in the decline in youth mental wellness, as the presenter in this Zoom event was suggesting. Media quotes, and news clips, aren’t credible research – be cautious of those who use uncited research, quotes, and clips to support their position, and passing it off as “research” to support their position, especially when it comes to social media and our kids!

Fear feeds the parental digital divide, and some presenters use this as their hook. As we like to say, let’s enlighten not frighten via facts not fear.

Buyer beware!

The White Hatter Team











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