Surgeon General urges action on teen mental health and social media

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Surgeon General urges action on teen mental health and social media
(Photo by Ivan Samkov/Pexels)

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has issued a stark warning, shedding light on the detrimental impact of social media on the mental well-being of teenagers. In a report, Murthy emphasizes the pressing need for policymakers and social media companies to address the growing concerns surrounding the negative effects of excessive social media use on adolescent mental health. As the prevalence of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues among teens continues to rise, it is becoming increasingly clear that youth mental health is a critical public health challenge demanding immediate action.

Highlighting the ubiquity of social media in young people’s lives, the report reveals that up to 95% of teens aged 13 to 17 use a social media platform. A significant portion of these adolescents admits to engaging with social media almost constantly, highlighting the profound influence these platforms hold over their daily lives. Surgeon General Murthy stresses that the lack of concrete evidence regarding the safety of social media necessitates proactive measures to safeguard the well-being of our children.

The report consolidates a body of research that demonstrates the connection between social media use and adverse mental health outcomes among adolescents. A study from 2019 revealed that teenagers who spent more than three hours per day on social media faced a doubled risk of experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Troublingly, recent surveys indicate that students in grades eight and ten now spend an average of three hours and thirty minutes daily on social media platforms.

Jim Steyer, the founder of Common Sense Media, and a champion for child-friendly media policies, wholeheartedly supports the advisory, describing it as a rallying cry for parents and policymakers alike. Urgency is paramount, given the skyrocketing rates of teenage depression, sadness, and hopelessness, particularly among girls, over the past decade. Professor Jean Twenge, an expert in psychology, correlates the rise in teen depression with the emergence of smartphones and the advent of “likes” and sophisticated algorithms aimed at prolonging social media engagement.

The surgeon general’s report explicitly attributes the perpetuation of eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and low self-esteem to social media platforms. Additionally, evidence suggests a potential link between excessive social media use and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in teenagers. It is increasingly evident that the harmful consequences of unfettered social media consumption extend beyond mental health, permeating multiple facets of adolescent well-being.