Social media is a menace to the mental health of the nation’s youth, says surgeon general

The near-constant use of social media is contributing to the mental health crisis of young people in the United States.

On May 23, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, published “Social Media and Youth Mental Health”, new clinic alerts doctors, parents, legislators, tech companies and young people to the potential mental health risks of spending too much time online.

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., MBA, describes “red flags” that suggest a mental health crisis among young Americans.

United States Department of Health and Human Services

Social media use is almost universal among young people, with as many as 95% of teens aged 13 to 17 reporting using a social media platform and more than a third saying they use social media “almost constantly”, according to the Surgeon General .

“The most common question parents ask me is, “Is social media safe for my kids?” The answer is that we don’t have enough evidence to say it’s safe, and in fact there is growing evidence that social media use is associated with harm to young people’s mental health,” Murthy said in Press Release.

“Children are exposed to harmful content on social media, from violence and sexual content to bullying and harassment,” said Murthy. “For too many children, social media use limits their sleep and valuable time spent in person with family and friends. We are in the midst of a nationwide youth mental health crisis and I am concerned that social media is an important driver of this crisis – one that we urgently need to address.”

Lots of problems

Murthy acknowledged that more research is needed to determine the exact impact on social media. Mental health is complex for all ages, especially teens.

But tech companies “have been barriers to understanding the full scope and scale” of social media, and the available evidence points to a range of potential problems.

  • teenagers those who spend more than three hours a day on social media are twice as likely to experience mental health problems, but one 2021 study of teens found that they spend an average of 3.5 hours a day online.
  • Growing up girls they are particularly vulnerable to body dissatisfaction, disturbed eating behaviors, social comparisons and low self-esteem. When asked about the impact of social media on their physique, 46% of girls aged 13 to 17 said it made them feel worse.
  • At least 1/3 of the girls between the ages of 11 and 15 say they feel “addicted” to certain social networking sites.
  • More than half of teens said it would be hard to give up social media.
  • up to 64% of teenagers are often or sometimes exposed to hate-based content.
  • The research have shown social media affects the amount and quality of sleep in adolescents.
  • At least one study found that nearly 70% of parents said parenting is more difficult now than it was 20 years ago, with technology and social media being two of the main reasons.
  • Almost 80% of parents said tech companies have a responsibility to protect children from inappropriate content.

“Our children and young people do not have the luxury of waiting years until we know the full extent of the impact of social media,” Murthy’s adviser said. “Their childhood and development takes place now.”

Something good may come of this

Murthy noted that social media is having positive effects according to young people:

  • 58% said social media helps them feel more accepted.
  • 67% said that they have people who can support them in difficult times.
  • 71% said they have a place where they can show their creative side.
  • 80% said that they are more connected with what is going on in friends’ lives.

Finding support

Murthy’s latest warning included recommendations from six national medical groups, including the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).

“Social media can be a powerful networking tool, but it can also lead to increased feelings of depression and anxiety – especially among teens,” AAFP president Tochi Iroku-Malize, MD, MPH, MBA, said in a statement.

“GPs are often the first stop for parents and families concerned about the physical and emotional health of young people in their lives, and every day we face a youth mental health crisis. The American Academy of Family Physicians commends Surgeon General for identifying this risk to America’s youth and joins our colleagues across the healthcare community in equipping young people and their families with the resources they need to lead healthy, balanced lives.”

Additional support came from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Public Health Association, and the National Parent Teacher Association.

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