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Surgeon General released advisory on the pros and cons of social media and its impact on adolescents

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released an advisory on the pros and cons of social media and its impact on the mental health of America’s adolescents — along with concrete steps that policymakers and parents can take to minimize the harms of too much screen time.

Murthy recommends that the people who run Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and other social media platforms must take responsibility for the impact that their products and services have on teens and children and must enable independent assessments of their impact. When they introduce a new product or service, they must prioritize the mental health and well-being of teens and children, regardless of any impact on profits.

Lawmakers should establish and enforce age-appropriate health and safety standards that protect children from harmful content and limit the use of features aimed mostly at maximizing screen time and engagement. Murthy also urges policymakers to ensure that notoriously secretive tech companies share with researchers their data about the impact of their platforms on teens and children. He points out that there’s still much about the intersection of teens and social media that America doesn’t know about, so ensuring that researchers get the funding they need should be a legislative priority.

Key Takeaways from Advisory

Social media use by young people is nearly universal

Up to 95% of young people aged 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.”1,2

  • Vogels et al., 2022.

  • Rideout et al., 2022.

Social media presents a meaningful risk of harm to youth, while also providing benefits The types of use and content children and adolescents are exposed to pose mental health concerns. Children and adolescents who spend more than 3 hours a day on social media face double the risk of mental health problems including experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety.3 This is concerning as a recent survey showed that teenagers spend an average of 3.5 hours a day on social media.4 And 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.5

  • Riehm et al., 2019.

  • Miech et al., 2022.

  • Bickham et al., 2022.

We cannot conclude that social media is sufficiently safe for children and adolescents We have gaps in our full understanding of the mental health impacts posed by social media but at this point cannot conclude it is sufficiently safe for children and adolescents. We must 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.

We can take immediate actions to make social media safer for youth 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.


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