Opaque Suspicions About Social Media And Our Kids Are Becoming Clear
A little over a week ago, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy affirmed what a growing number of officials, mental health and crisis intervention experts, law enforcement professionals, parents, grandparents, and caregivers have either suspected or thoroughly believed in their heart of hearts for some time.
On May 23, Murthy issued a report entitled “Social Media and Youth Mental Health,” which in a nutshell, described many of these all too engaging platforms online and in mobile applications as being a “profound risk of harm” for children.
Researchers and authors of the report stated plainly that they could not conclude social media is sufficiently safe for children and adolescents who are spending countless hours of their young lives seemingly under the spell of social media that occupies their many screens.
Key findings of the report are jarring:
Up to 95% of young people age 13-17 report using a social media platform, nearly two thirds of teenagers report using social media every day, and one third report using social media “almost constantly.”
The types of use and content children and adolescents are exposed to pose mental health concerns. Children and adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media face double the risk of mental health problems including experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as poor sleep and low self-esteem, and facing online harassment, particularly for girls.
Although 13 is the minimum age to use social media sites in the US, nearly 40 percent of kids ages 8-12 use the platforms. The report also points to a recent survey that showed when asked about the impact of social media on their body image, 46 percent of adolescents aged 13-17 said social media makes them feel worse.
Researchers admit they are continuing to work to better understand the answers to key questions, such as which types of content are most harmful and what factors can protect young people from the negative effects of social media.
At the same time, however, the Surgeon General’s Advisory on Social Media and Youth Mental Health calls for engaging in a multifaceted effort to maximize the benefits and reduce the risk of harm posed by social media with actions suggested for groups including: children and adolescents, policymakers, technology companies, researchers, and families.
As anyone who goes anywhere young people congregate will attest, these impressionable individuals are almost never without some type of electronic device capable of downloading and engaging a growing variety of social network programs.
Despite lacking all the information required to bring researchers to a more definitive conclusion about specific results of frequent to constant social network engagement, the Surgeon General’s report does a good job of presenting information on what children and adolescents, parents and caregivers, tech companies, policymakers, and other researchers can do to mitigate negative impacts that are already verified.
We agree and support the Surgeon General’s conclusion that at a moment when we are experiencing a national youth mental health crisis, now is the time to act swiftly and decisively to protect children and adolescents from risk of harm. Anyone who cares about the future well-being of our young people and loved ones is strongly encouraged to visit hhs.gov/surgeongeneral and review the latest best information available on this important issue.