United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned of the dangers of excessive social media use amongst teenagers in a public health advisory on Tuesday, saying it has exacerbated mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and body dysmorphia.
“Up to 95% of youth ages 13–17 report using a social media platform, with more than a third saying they use social media ‘almost constantly’”, the report stated.
In 2021, it was reported that 8th and 10th graders spent an average of three and a half hours a day on social media. Researchers found that teens who spent three hours a day on social media faced double the risk of developing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The surgeon general’s advisory says that “Critical Questions Remain Unanswered”:
Nearly every teenager in America uses social media, and yet we do not have enough evidence to conclude that it is sufficiently safe for them. Our children have become unknowing participants in a decades-long experiment. It is critical that independent researchers and technology companies work together to rapidly advance our understanding of the impact of social media on children and adolescents.
Placing limits on social media use can improve mental health, a study showed. The report cited a study which found limiting daily social media use to 30 minutes over three weeks lowered depression scores by more than 35%.
However, the report states that social media websites are “designed to maximize user engagement.” Social media platforms will use methods like push notifications, infinite scroll, and algorithms curated from users’ data to keep them on the site longer. Researchers found excessive social media use can restructure the brain in a similar way that a gambling or substance addiction can, the report says.
Approximately 75% of teens think they are being manipulated to stay on social media platforms longer they intend to.
The report called on social media platforms to assume responsibility for the impact they have on both children and adults and to prioritize users’ health and safety.
In January, Breitbart reported that researchers found TikTok has led to changes in teens’ brains. The Chinese app was also found to be recommending videos promoting self-harm and eating disorders.
The advisory recommends parents create a family media plan as well as a tech-free zone to help encourage their kids to have healthy habits regarding social media.