On Tuesday, May 23, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy
issued an advisory
on Social Media and Youth Mental Health.
“The most common question parents ask me is, ‘Is social media safe for my kids?’ The answer is that we don't have enough evidence to say it's safe, and in fact, there is growing evidence that social media use is associated with harm to young people’s mental health,” said U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. “Children are exposed to harmful content on social media, ranging from violent and sexual content, to bullying and harassment. And for too many children, social media use is compromising their sleep and valuable in-person time with family and friends. We are in the middle of a national youth mental health crisis, and I am concerned that social media is an important driver of that crisis – one that we must urgently address.”
The Surgeon General is calling for action by policy makers, tech companies, researchers, families, and youth to gain a clearer understanding of the impact on social media use. One focus is to maximize the benefits of social media, all while limiting the harms social media platforms cause to a growing number of youths. Social media can be harmful due to the time spent using the platforms, which can hinder vital important healthy activities for growth and development like sleep and physical activity.
Youth have reported that there are benefits to social media use including:
- Social media helps youth feel more accepted.
- People on social media can support youth during difficult times.
- A platform to demonstrate their creative side.
- Youth feel more connected to what’s going on in their friends’ lives.
The Department of Health and Human Services reports that despite the benefits of social media research has shown that youth that spend more than three-hours per day on social media face double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes. On average youth spend 3.5 hours a day on social media. Also, 64% of adolescents are exposed to hate based content on social media. The time spent on social media can lead to depression and anxiety. A large portion of youth have also reported feeling addicted to social media.
The Surgeon General’s offices believe more research is needed to understand the full impact social media has on our nation’s youth. They are recommending the following to help make social media safer for our youth:
- Policymakers can take steps to strengthen safety standards and limit access in ways that make social media safer for children of all ages, better protect children’s privacy, support digital and media literacy, and fund additional research.
- Technology companies can better and more transparently assess the impact of their products on children, share data with independent researchers to increase our collective understanding of the impacts, make design and development decisions that prioritize safety and health – including protecting children’s privacy and better adhering to age minimums – and improve systems to provide effective and timely responses to complaints.
- Parents and caregivers can make plans in their households such as establishing tech-free zones that better foster in-person relationships, teach kids about responsible online behavior and model that behavior, and report problematic content and activity.
- Children and adolescents can adopt healthy practices like limiting time on platforms, blocking unwanted content, being careful about sharing personal information, and reaching out if they or a friend need help or see harassment or abuse on the platforms.
- Researchers can further prioritize social media and youth mental health research that can support the establishment of standards and evaluation of best practices to support children’s health.
Follow the link to read the full 2023 Social Media and Youth Mental Health report. For additional information on the Office of the Surgeon General please visit www.surgeongeneral.gov/priorities.
ACA focused articles on youth & social media:
If you would like to become involved in ACA’s advocacy efforts, contact the ACA Government Affairs and Public Policy Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.