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In May of 2023, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released an official advisory statement about social media and youth mental health. His verdict? While social media may have some benefits, it may be doing more harm than good in our society. In Dr. Murthy’s words, “We are in the middle of a national youth mental health crisis, and I am concerned that social media is an important driver of that crisis – one that we must urgently address.”
So, where do we go from here?
Talk about it!
There should be no secrets when it comes to social media. First, talk to your kids about the risks and benefits of social media use. Studies show that social media may be at its best when helping with identity formation, peer support, and community building among kids of marginalized populations, such as gender, neurodiverse, and racial minorities, to name a few. But, the risks of social media use could vastly outweigh the benefits for some. Recent research has shown that “frequent social media use may be associated with distinct changes in the developing brain in the amygdala (important for emotional learning and behavior) and the prefrontal cortex (important for impulse control, emotional regulation, and moderating social behavior), and could increase sensitivity to social rewards and punishments”.
Think it through and teach your kids to think about it, too. This includes discussing that much of what is posted online is false or inaccurate, that people make posts based on their own points of view or agendas, and that some posts are simply made to make money for advertisers. Learn more about social media literacy from the American Academy of Pediatrics here.
Set strong boundaries and work hard to maintain them
Be familiar with how to report abuse, exploitation, inappropriate material, or bullying on each app, and walk children through each step of reporting. Warn kids about the types of harmful content they might be exposed to, and maintain an open, non-judgmental line of communication about what they are seeing online. One study found that exposure to cyberbullying, violence, drug-related content, hate speech, profanity, sexual content, depression-related content, and low-severity self-harm on social media was associated with significantly increased suicidal/self-harm behaviors among viewers.[MA1] Here are some other suggestions for maintaining boundaries:
- Create a family media plan.
- Designate areas of your home as “tech-free” zones, such as the dinner table, family room, and beds.
- Don’t make screen time a reward or a punishment for kids—this only glorifies screens as the optimal reward. Instead, provide other options, such as playing a board game or a chance to play outside/see friends.
- Stick to these recommendations by The American Academy of Pediatrics:
- No screen time for children under 2 (a recent study found that more screen time in 1-year olds was associated with developmental delays as toddlers)
- One hour of screen time per day for children aged 2 to 12
- Two hours per day for teens and adults
Create a visual guide that shows social media time vs. non-screen time and compare them. Use time-limiting and content-limiting apps and settings on your devices. Use features available on your devices to track and limit screen time:
- Be a leader and a role model in our community
Model responsible social media use for your children, as well as for other young people in Campbell County.
While there is still a lot of research that needs to be done to determine the true impacts of social media use, we have enough information to know that our young people deserve to be better informed now. Dr. Murthy said it best when he said, “Our children and adolescents don’t have the luxury of waiting years until we know the full extent of social media’s impact. Their childhoods and development are happening now”. Campbell County Medical Group Pediatrics Clinic and Kid Clinic provide an array of counseling services, including helping children and adolescents cope with and navigate the world of social media and its effects on their lives and identities. For more information, visit our website or call the CCMG Pediatrics Clinic at (307) 688-3636 and the Kid Clinic at (307) 688-8700.
Jenny Radesky, M. D. (2019). Beyond screen time: Encourage families to think critically about
Kelly, Y., Zilanawala, A., Booker, C., & Sacker, A. (2018). Social Media Use and Adolescent
Mental Health: Findings From the UK Millennium Cohort Study. The Lancet. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/eclinm/article/PIIS2589-5370(18)30060-9/fulltext
Ridout, B., & Campbell, A. (2018). The Use of Social Networking Sites in Mental Health
Interventions for Young People: Systematic Review. Journal of medical Internet research, 20(12), e12244. https://doi.org/10.2196/12244
 Matthew N. Berger et al., “Social Media Use and Health and Well-Being of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth: Systematic Review,” Journal of Medical Internet Research 24, no. 9 (September 21, 2022): e38449, https://doi.org/10.2196/38449.
 Maria T. Maza et al., “Association of Habitual Checking Behaviors on Social Media With Longitudinal Functional Brain Development,” JAMA Pediatrics 177, no. 2 (February 1, 2023): 160–67, https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2022.4924.
 M. D. Jenny Radesky, “Beyond Screen Time: Encourage Families to Think Critically about Media,” April 24, 2019, https://publications.aap.org/aapnews/news/7735/Beyond-screen-time-Encourage-families-to-think.
 Steven A. Sumner et al., “Association of Online Risk Factors With Subsequent Youth Suicide-Related Behaviors in the US,” JAMA Network Open 4, no. 9 (September 20, 2021): e2125860, https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.25860.
 “Tips for Reducing Screen Time, Reduce Screen Time, NHLBI, NIH,” accessed August 17, 2023, https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/reduce-screen-time/tips-to-reduce-screen-time.htm.
 Ippei Takahashi et al., “Screen Time at Age 1 Year and Communication and Problem-Solving Developmental Delay at 2 and 4 Years,” JAMA Pediatrics, August 21, 2023, https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2023.3057.