Social media has become an essential aspect of many individuals’ lives, particularly teenagers. Although it can provide advantages such as connecting with friends and gaining knowledge, it can also present significant dangers to their mental health and overall well-being.
That’s the message of a new public advisory issued by the US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, who warns that “there are ample indicators that social media can also have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.”
According to the advisory, social media can expose young users to harmful content, such as cyberbullying, hate speech, misinformation, and graphic violence. It can also create unrealistic expectations, pressure to conform, and fear of missing out. These factors can contribute to symptoms of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and suicidal thoughts.
The advisory cites several studies that show a link between high social media use and poor mental health outcomes. For example, one study found that teens who spent more than three hours a day on social media “faced double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes, including symptoms of depression and anxiety.” Another study found that girls who used social media frequently were more likely to report being unhappy and dissatisfied with their appearance.
The Surgeon General also notes that social media can affect the brain development of adolescents, who are in a critical phase of emotional learning, impulse control, and social behavior. He says that “adolescents are not just smaller adults” and that they need more guidance and protection from the potential harms of social media.
To address this issue, the advisory urges policymakers and companies to create safer and healthier digital environments for young users. It calls for stronger safety standards, more transparency and accountability, and more research and innovation. It also recommends parents and caregivers to monitor and limit their kids’ social media use, as well as to model healthy online behaviors and provide emotional support.
The advisory acknowledges that social media can also provide some benefits to young users, such as enhancing their creativity, communication skills, and social connections. It says that more research is needed to fully understand the impact of social media on youth mental health. However, it emphasizes that “we have to now take action to make sure that we are protecting our kids.”