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Surgeon General issues advisory on harmful effects of social media on children

The Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, issued an advisory on Tuesday about the harmful effects of social media on children and young people, particularly in relation to their mental health.

Teens spent an average of 3.5 hours a day on social media in 2021, according to a press release accompanying the report.

Young people find many benefits to using social media, including finding connections with others with similar experiences or having a place to display their creativity, but there are ‘many indicators’ that social media can harm to children and adolescents, according to the surgeon general.

For example, social media can expose young people to content that encourages disordered eating habits or social comparisons, or even content that is violent or shows that others are being bullied. Additionally, social media can also influence young people’s health by interfering with their sleep, physical activity and real interactions with people, according to the Surgeon General.

“We are in the midst of a national youth mental health crisis, and I fear that social media is a significant driver of this crisis – a crisis that we must urgently address,” Murthy said in A press release.

The recommendations for action outlined in the notice include many of the same stakeholders who have been called upon to act at different times in relation to young people’s use of social media. These include calling on policymakers to “raise safety standards and limit access,” encouraging researchers to prioritize the mental health of young people, and asking tech companies to “d ‘evaluate more transparently the impact of their products on children’.

The advisory also recommends that children themselves adopt healthier practices online, including blocking distressing content, speaking up and reaching out to someone else if they are abused. bullying or harassment online, either from themselves or from another person.

Learn more: How sleep affects your mental health

How Social Media Affects Children – For Better and For Worse

The brains of adolescents, aged 10 to 16, are going through a “very sensitive” period of development, according to a study cited in the report. This is the same time when risky behaviors (sometimes encouraged on social media) and mental health issues like depression (whose symptoms can be exacerbated on social media) typically emerge.

Many reasons why social media can be harmful to children are described in the report, including the fact that it can create addictive pathways in the brain and the fact that it can introduce easier access to potentially strangers. dangerous in the lives of children. According to a 2023 Common Sense Media report titled How Girls Really Feel About Social Media, which was cited in the advisory, a significant portion of teenage girls surveyed who use Instagram (58%), Snapchat (57%) and TikTok (46 %) had been contacted by a stranger through the platform in a way that made them “uncomfortable”.

However, one of the main benefits of social media for young people is that it can connect them with other people with similar experiences that they would not have met otherwise. According to the report, research shows that social media can support the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer youth by providing them with more identity and peer support.

Seven in 10 girls of color also say they have “encountered positive content or race-related identity,” the advisory said, citing the same 2023 report on how teenage girls relate to social media.

“The reality is that teens’ relationships with social media are complicated,” Common Sense founder James P. Steyer said in the foreword to the Girls and Social Media report. “They know it’s not always what’s best for them, but it plays a huge role in how they experience the world and build and sustain their relationships. use, but we have a chance to make it work better for them.”

Learn more: Teenagers, social media use and mental health: what you really need to know


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