Surgeon General Advisory: Social Media Presents “Profound Risk of Harm” for Children
A new advisory from the U.S. surgeon general calls for increased research into the impact of social media on the mental health of children and teens. In the advisory, the surgeon general states social media presents “a profound risk of harm” for kids.
What the Surgeon General’s Social Media Advisory Means
Surgeon general advisories are issued to call attention to public health issues and to provide recommendations on how those issues should be addressed. Recent advisories have been used to promote the use of naloxone to prevent opioid overdose, raise awareness of health misinformation, and bring focus to mental health.
For this advisory, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy sought to bring attention to the risk social media poses to the mental and emotional health of young people, including children and teens.
The advisory includes a review of available data surrounding the effects of social media on youth mental health and provides recommendations for families struggling with social media use. Dr. Murthy also hopes the advisory will spur action in terms of new funding for relevant research, increased transparency from social media companies, and the implementation of new social media policies and guidelines.
How Big of a Problem is Social Media for Mental Health?
The advisory looked at the available evidence to build a better understanding of the effects social media is having on youth mental health.
According to the report, social media use among children is “nearly universal” with around 95% of kids between the ages 13 and 17 using social media. One-third of the age group said they use social media “almost constantly.”
Further, while 13 is typically the minimum age listed for use of social media sites, the advisory notes nearly 40% of children between the ages of 8 and 12 use the platforms.
The advisory went on to describe the adverse outcomes young people are experiencing from social media use. These include:
- Poor sleep
- Online harassment
- Low self-esteem
These outcomes were more common in girls.
One study cited by the advisory focused on 6,595 US adolescents between ages 12 and 15. It found those who spent more than three hours a day on social media were twice as likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety of non-users.
The same study found that reducing social media use improved the mental health of participants.
The advisory also cited a significant relationship between social media use and eating disorders.
What Can Parents Do?
As the advisory notes, the burden of managing the negative effects of social media has fallen almost entirely on kids and parents. This currently remains true.
While it can feel overwhelming, here are a few steps parents can take to reduce the risk of negative mental health effects social media can have on kids.
- Limit Screen Time: Set boundaries for social media use by establishing designated times for checking platforms and avoiding excessive scrolling. Consider using apps that track and manage screen time to help maintain a healthy balance.
- Help Kids Curate Their Feed: Take control of the content your child consumes. Unfollow accounts that contribute to negative self-comparisons or feelings of inadequacy. Instead, encourage your child to follow accounts that promote positivity, self-acceptance, and mental well-being.
- Practice Digital Detox: Work with your child to regularly disconnect from social media to rejuvenate and focus on real-life interactions. Engage in joint activities that you and your child can enjoy together, such as hobbies, games, exercise, or just spending time.
- Seek Support: If you find your child struggling with mental health issues, reach out to a mental health professional. They can provide guidance, support, and valuable resource.
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