As part of his ongoing and comprehensive initiative to support the well-being and mental health of our nation’s youth, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released an advisory stating that we “do not yet have enough evidence to determine if social media is sufficiently safe for children and adolescents,” calling on the nation to apply a “safety first” approach to online platforms just as we do to medications, toys, and cars.
JED’s mission is to protect emotional health and prevent suicide for our nation’s teens and young adults and fully supports the Surgeon General’s recommendations as well as additional steps policymakers, technology leaders, and youth-serving institutions can take right now to safeguard young people.
Social media offers powerful ways for youth to find connection; the advisory includes research showing that these platforms can help marginalized groups, including LGBTQ youth and girls of color, find identity-affirming support. The report states that “there are ample indicators that social media can also have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents” and “may be associated with distinct changes in the developing brain.”
Although the report calls for continued research, data reveals that:
- Almost all teenagers are on social media, spending an average of 3.5 hours online daily, and nearly half of 8- to 12-year-olds use social media platforms.
- Increased social media use is associated with increased risk of mental health challenges including depression and anxiety, and adolescent girls may face a greater risk of harm that includes poor self-esteem, negative body image, and disordered eating.
- Excessive social media use interferes with activities that support mental health and well-being, such as sleep.
- Reduced social media use has been linked to fewer symptoms of depression, as well as increases in happiness and life satisfaction.
Until now, the burden of protecting adolescents and teens online has fallen almost entirely on young people and their caregivers. It is time now, says the Surgeon General, for policymakers and technology companies to assume that burden.
The Jed Foundation supports the Surgeon General’s recommendations, which include asking:
- Policymakers to
- Develop age-appropriate safety standards
- Strengthen and enforce age minimums
- Protect the privacy of children and youth online
- Support digital and media literacy and fund additional research
- Technology companies to
- Assess the potential risks of products and be proactive in preventing the potential for misuse
- Be transparent and share assessment data with independent researchers
- Establish an independent scientific safety and advisory committee to inform approaches and policies to protect users
- Prioritize user health and safety in the development of social media products and services
- Researchers to
- Make the impact of social media on youth mental health a priority
JED also urges:
- Policymakers to
- Encourage algorithmic transparency from all social media platforms, so that all stakeholders, but, especially end users, understand how their experience is being influenced
- Enact policies that require technology companies to design their algorithms to protect youth from harmful content and drive them to supportive content
- Prohibit—or strictly control—advertising to anyone under 18
- Involve young people in the creation of policies that will offer them substantive protection online and enhance the positive benefits of social media
- Create a regulatory agency dedicated to ensuring digital and online safety
- Technology companies to
- Disable algorithms that serve harmful content and are intended to keep children, teens, and young adults engaged with screens
- Leverage algorithms to surface supportive mental health content
- Build in time limits and digital breaks to support youth in putting their devices down and connecting IRL
- Implement content blocks instead of easily dismissed pop-ups
- Use their expertise to discover, downgrade, and ban content that encourages harmful behaviors including suicide, self-injury, disordered eating, and cyberbullying
- Use their expertise to uplift and advance content that is supportive of help-seeking, as well as positive solutions to the challenges youth are facing
- Involve young people in the design, creation, and implementation of improvements intended to minimize harm and support their well-being
- Funders and philanthropic organizations to
- Invest in high-quality, large-scale research into interventions, protective policies, and the short- and long-term effects of social media on mental health
- Partner with and support community-based organizations offering young people alternative, balanced opportunities for meaningful offline connection
JED is dedicated to supporting teens and young adults to create lives that feel balanced and healthy on– and off-line and working with high schools and preK-12 school districts to help them educate and empower students to make social media work for—and not against—them. JED will continue to offer expertise and resources to leaders in the technology industry and policymakers committed to decisively responding to the Surgeon General’s advisory.
Additional resources for creating a healthy relationship with social media are available in JED’s Mental Health Resource Center.