Naples parents host event to discuss social media’s effect on children

Reporter: Lindsey Sablan Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

Naples parents are joining forces with an advocacy group and a documentarian to host an event Saturday night discussing social media’s effect on children’s mental health.

According to new data from the CDC, 24% of girls in high school reported seriously considering taking their own lives in 2019. In 2021, that number jumped to 30%.

Several issues are at play, but doctors and parents often look to social media as one culprit.

The 2020 Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma” highlights what it claims are social media companies’ tools used to keep everyone online and engaged, from feeding you content they know you’ll click on to bombarding you with notifications when you’re not online.

Naples parents James and Ashley Schlimmer saw the documentary and felt they had to do something. They’re bringing Jeff Orlowski, director of the documentary, to have an open conversation about the role of social media in our lives.

“The big takeaway is that the social media platforms are created by design to suck us in,” James Schlimmer said. “So, you look at it and say, if you’re 40 years or older, it’s impossible for us to understand the draw and the impact that kids are pulled towards this because we didn’t have it growing up.”

Older adults may never have known a world without Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and the rest, but surely they can remember a time when validation from their friends meant everything.

“I remember, you know, [our son] would spend hours in the bathroom in front of the mirror doing these dances,” Ashley Schwimmer said. “He would come in and talk to us about, ‘Oh, I got, you know, how many likes.'”

At 6 p.m. on Saturday, the Schlimmers—in partnership with Kids Minds Matter—are hosting an event at Naples Seventh-day Adventist Church called “It’s Our Job to Know.” Orlowski will speak alongside Dr. Jason Sabo, a pediatric developmental and behavioral specialist with Lee Health.

“It’s using behavioral techniques… essentially reinforcing these really quick, you know, reactions,” Sabo said. “This dopamine that’s being released, and it does, it makes you feel good, it makes you enjoy that specific activity, which makes it so addicting.”

Sabo’s calendar is packed daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. seeing children with anxiety, ADHD and depression.

“Within Golisano Children’s Hospital, and from 2020 to 2021, we saw a 235% increase in the number of Baker Acts,” Sabo said. “That number then rose again in 2022 by 10%.”

Sabo recalls how children were encouraged to connect on social media during the pandemic; after so long a time being separated in person, it can be hard to log off.

Baker Acts happen if a person is deemed a danger to themselves or someone else. They are then held involuntarily for 72 hours.

The Schlimmers’ son never got to that point, but they did discover a hidden world where their son was connecting with friends who all use secret accounts.

“It was scary,” Ashley Schlimmer said. “And it was, ‘what are we doing wrong?'”

The Schlimmers know they aren’t the only adults who feel that way, which is why they are gathering parents, grandparents and teens for “It’s Our Job to Know.”

Admission is free for middle or high schoolers and $25 for adults. Naples SDA is located at 5050 Davis Blvd. Tickets are available on the church’s website.

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