By Tylar Bloch
Last month, the US Surgeon General issued an advisory on social media and its impact on the mental health of young people. This breakthrough advisory has received widespread recognition for its highly visible stance on the health risks associated with social media. Over the past few years, this area has been under increasing scrutiny, as platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat face more real-world cases of harm to their users’ mental health. Parents should take this advisory as a sign that the impact of social media is a real and growing issue worth talking about and forming strategies around for their kids.
While the advisory acknowledges the benefits of social media use as important to self- expression and maintaining connections, it warns that symptoms of depression and anxiety can affect social media users who spend significant amounts of time on these platforms. In one cited survey of 8th and 10th graders, 1 out of every 7 students spends 7+ hours a day on social media! The report suggests that such substantial use of social media can assume addictive properties similar to substance use or gambling addictions. It also points to the harms that can arise from exposure to hateful, extreme, or inappropriate content. Without the proper interventions in place, this kind of content—be it clips of self-harm or videos about eating disorders—can easily reach young people, at times leading them to mimic in the real world the negative behaviors that they observe online. Furthermore, the report finds that growing dependence on social media makes cyberbullying and predatory behavior a reality for today’s youth, which can amplify these existing mental-health risks and generate new risks to physical safety.
The advisory includes steps parents can take to help protect and support their children. Among these, creating a family media plan and teaching kids about the impacts of digital technology, as well as modeling responsible behavior online, can be effective ways to mitigate these harms. As parents become more aware of the harms that their children can experience from significant use of social media, the Surgeon General’s advisory should help them to feel empowered to take action in their family and their community to make the internet a safer place for young people.
- How much time do you think you spend each day on social media?
- How does social media make you feel when you are using it?
- What are some reminders you can set to help you notice how much time you are spending on social media?
- What kinds of technology-free activities can you do to help you manage your social media use?
- How can you work with your friends or classmates to collectively take action on improving the way you and your peers use social media?
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