The U.S. Office of the Surgeon General has recently released Social Media and Youth Mental Health: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory, a report detailing the positive and negative outcomes of social media usage amongst youth users. The report is quick to note that despite “…widespread use among children and adolescents, robust independent safety analyses on the impact of social media on youth have not yet been conducted.” According to current research, there are several dangers and potential negative outcomes of social media usage including poor mental health, addiction, and exposure to harmful content. One study found that 12-15 year-olds saw an increase in their risk for developing depression and anxiety if they spent more than 3 hours per day on social media platforms. In addition to this, adolescents have been exposed to extremist content as well as malicious encounters with adults seeking young targets for sexual or financial exploitation. Exacerbating these issues is the reality that many of these platforms are designed to encourage user engagement without concerns for the development of addictive behaviors. According to the report, “[o]ver half of teenagers report that it would be hard to give up social media.”
While the detrimental effects of social media remain concerning, there are also potentially positive outcomes for adolescent users. Social media can encourage creativity, create social bonds, and positively affect mental health outcomes by providing access to supportive social networks. Social media also provides quick access to important information, which can be helpful or detrimental depending on the accuracy and intent of said information. Whether or not a child experiences positive or negative outcomes from social media can be influenced by both social media companies and parents. Policy changes that help safeguard users, especially young users is one important step forward. Parents may also influence their child’s interactions with social media by encouraging the restriction of devices before bedtime, reporting online exploitation and abuse, and by setting a good example in their own social media usage.
For more information, check out HSDL’s In Focus topics on Cyber Policy, Disinformation, Hate and Antisemitism, Social Media Use in Emergencies, and Online Extremism.