Message from the Surgeon General: Social Media and Youth Mental Health

The US Surgeon General came out with a report this week outlining several categories including:

  • Negative impacts on kids
  • Social media can expose children to content that presents risks of harm
  • Social media use can be excessive and problematic for some children

The report offers some interventions described as “A Way Forward” outlining some actions that can be taken to make social media safer and healthier for youth (and includes a bibliography of references).

For example:

  • Policymakers can take steps to strengthen safety standards and limit access in ways that make social media safer for children of all ages, better protect children’s privacy, support digital and media literacy, and fund additional research.
  • Technology companies can better and more transparently assess the impact of their products on children, share data with independent researchers to increase our collective understanding of the impacts, make design and development decisions that prioritize safety and health.
  • Parents and caregivers can make plans in their households such as establishing tech-free Zones that help protect sleep and better foster in-person relationships, teach children and adolescents about responsible online behavior, and model that behavior, and report problematic content and activity.
  • Children and adolescents can adopt healthy practices like limiting time on platforms, blocking unwanted content, being careful about sharing personal information, and reaching out if they or a friend need help or see harassment or abuse on the platforms.
  • Researchers can further prioritize social media and youth mental health research that can support the establishment of standards and evaluation of best practices to support children’s health.

It would certainly be nice if the harmful effects of exposure to social media lends itself to simple and effective interventions. Sadly, that is not the case – and as the full report points out – there’s no simple intervention that’s easy to implement fore this public health problem.