The youth mental health crisis has parents stressed over back-to-school. This is their biggest fear


By Sarah Bregel

Kids heading back to school has always felt like a mixed bag of emotions for parents. Worries about peer struggles, harder subjects, and new teachers are only natural. Still, for most parents—and especially for those who work from home—getting kids out of the house after a long, hot summer is usually a very welcome relief.

However, this year, with worries about teens’ mental health escalating and growing concerns about the impact of kids’ social media use, parents are grappling with a lot as class bells start ringing again.

Kids are spending more time online than ever, and at younger and younger ages. As they start classes across the country this month and next, parents are saying that social media concerns are weighing them down. The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health asked 2,099 parents what their biggest concerns were. By far, what’s stressing them out the most are issues surrounding kids’ screen time and their mental health.

The number-one concern was the overuse of devices/screen time (67%), followed closely by social media (66%). Coming in at numbers three and four were internet safety (62%) and depression/suicide (57%). Of course, these concerns are all closely linked, given that social media and time online are increasingly being recognized as culprits in the teen mental health crisis. But it’s striking that, as kids are strapping on their backpacks and lacing up their new kicks, parents are even more concerned with the internet than the massively terrifying issue: gun violence.


Gun violence was the number-one killer of children in the United States in 2021, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More kids died from gun violence that year than from car accidents, drug overdoses, or cancer. As the number of mass shootings in schools continues to rise, parents worry about the issue more and more each school year. And so do kids, given that more and more students are now already mass-school-shooting survivors, or are practicing active shooter drills at school, or at the very least, are increasingly aware of incidents of mass shootings.

Still, parents are more concerned about kids’ mental health and their social media use than gun violence. In fact, issues around the internet dominated the list of concerns so much that guns/gun injuries fell just out of the top 10 at 47%.

Income levels did impact parents’ top concerns. Lower-income parents were more concerned with mental health issues, while middle- and higher-income parents were more focused on the overuse of screens, as well as the social media aspect of kids’ screen time. What’s consistent is that both issues—screens and mental health—are at the top of parents’ minds, and as another school year begins, it feels, to them, like the most stressful one ever.

Fast Company