Social media and youth mental health
Tuesday, October 10, 2023
Should you be concerned?
In May 2023, Dr. Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States, released an advisory called Social Media and Youth Mental Health.
A Surgeon General’s Advisory is a public statement that calls the American people’s attention to a public health issue and provides recommendations for how that issue should be addressed. Advisories are reserved for significant public health challenges that need the American people’s immediate awareness.
Dr. Murthy explained that the national youth mental health crisis convinced him of the need for such an action.
Here are the key takeaways:
Up to 95% of young people aged 13-17 report using a social media platform. Two-thirds report using social media every day, and one-third report using social media “almost constantly.”
There is growing evidence that social media use is associated with harm to young people’s mental health, with harmful content, sleep disruption and reduced physical activity being highlighted as key issues.
Children and adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media face experiencing poor mental health outcomes, including depression and anxiety.
Children and adolescents on social media are commonly exposed to extreme, inappropriate and harmful content. Roughly, 64% of adolescents report being exposed to hate-based content often or sometimes. Nearly 6-in-10 adolescent girls say they’ve been contacted by a stranger in ways that make them feel uncomfortable.
The advisory acknowledges that there are benefits to social media. For example, youth with disabilities and younger members of the LGBTQ+ community say they find identity-affirming content and acceptance online.
However, the overall message is that the risks outweigh the benefits for most children and teens. According to Dr. Murthy, “We cannot conclude that social media is sufficiently safe for children and adolescents. We cannot afford to wait for decades of study results to take action.”
Click here for a quick-read executive summary of the advisory. The 25-page complete advisory presents the research and statistics the researchers discovered and clear action items youth and adolescents, families, technology companies and policymakers can use to address this significant mental health challenge.
If you read the advisory and decide it’s a good idea to cut back on your child’s use of social media, here’s some encouraging news. In a report released by Common Sense Media, only 34% percent of teens who use social media say they enjoy it “a lot.” In fact, when asked about the impact of social media on their body image, 46% of adolescents aged 13-17 said social media makes them feel worse.
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