Social media may be levying an unseen personal cost.
United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a new advisory on the mental effects of social media on children.
Officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services observed that about 95% of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 used social media outlets, with more than a third admitting to constant use.
According to Search Engine Journal, Facebook was the most commonly used social media outlet as of 2022, with about 2.9 billion monthly active users. This was followed by YouTube, WhatsApp, and Instagram.
Despite the overall warning, officials noted potential positive aspects generated by the advent of social media.
Officials noted that 58% of children said that these online outlets allowed them to feel accepted, 67% reported having support in tough moments, 80% reported increased connection with their peers, and 71% reported that they could show more creativity.
Murthy said the most common question parents ask him was whether social media outlets are safe for children, to which he answered that evidence points to the opposite and added that there is not enough conclusive evidence warranting safety. Murthy highlighted adverse effects and content on social media such as violent and sexual content, bullying and harassment, and disruption to sleep cycle and in-person social relationships.
“We are in the middle of a national youth mental health crisis, and I am concerned that social media is an important driver of that crisis — one that we must urgently address,” Murthy said in a press release.
Research showed that in terms of body image, 46% of those between the ages of 14 and 17 said social media made them feel worse about their image, and only 14% said it made them feel better. Another 64% reported exposure to “hate-based content.”
The research also linked social media exposure to depression and disruption in sleep cycle.
“Today’s children and teens do not know a world without digital technology, but the digital world wasn’t built with children’s healthy mental development in mind,” said Sandy Chung, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, according to the press release. “We need an approach to help children both on and offline that meets each child where they are while also working to make the digital spaces they inhabit safer and healthier.”
Social media trends appear to demonstrate the power to affect an adolescent’s social behavior. School districts like Dallas ISD took action in 2021 to mitigate a criminal social media trend originating from TikTok, warning students of prosecution, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.
Murthy urged that policymakers, parents, children, and other involved parties take measures to mitigate negative impacts. Measures included improving safety standards for those in charge of policy, improved transparency and privacy administration for companies, and parents establishing “tech-free zones” in their homes.