One of the most disturbing elements of The Social Dilemma is just how much regularly using smartphones can negatively affect a kid's self-worth.
"These technology products were not designed by child psychologists who are trying to protect and nurture children," says Tristan Harris — a former Google design ethicist and the cofounder of the Center For Humane Technology — in the film.
He notes that social media can negatively impact children's mental health. "It's not just that it's controlling where they spend their attention," he explains. "Especially social media starts to dig deeper and deeper down into the brain stem and take over kids' sense of self-worth and identity."
"These technology products were not designed by child psychologists who are trying to protect and nurture children."
According to the documentary, there are also alarming statistics to back up this concept. After all, anyone with an online profile knows how fleeting that happy sensation — or "fake, brittle popularity," as Chamath Palihapitiya, Facebook's former VP of growth, calls it — feels when you get likes on an Instagram post.
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, PhD, a professor at the NYU Stern School of Business, explains that the damning effect social media has on young adults is palpable.
"There has been a gigantic increase in depression and anxiety for American teenagers which began right between 2011 and 2013," he says. "The number of teenage girls out of 100,000 in this country who were admitted to a hospital every year because they've cut themselves or otherwise harmed themselves . . . was pretty stable until around 2010, 2011, and then it [began to go] way up."
According to the documentary, the amount of United States hospital admissions for nonfatal self-harm has gone up by 62 percent for girls between the ages of 15 and 19. For girls who fall into the 10 to 14 age range, the figure has increased by 189 percent since social media became mainstream.
Experts are seeing the same trend with suicide rates. Suicides in teen girls between the ages of 15 and 19 have increased by 70 percent compared to the first decade of the century. The suicide rate of preteen girls (between the ages of 10 and 14) has increased by 151 percent in the same time frame, according to Dr. Haidt. Although experts can't say that social media, specifically, has caused these alarming trends, the correlation is unsettling.