SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. – The U.S Surgeon General warned social media can have a “profound risk” on the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents. A U.C. Santa Barbara professor said despite the potential risks, we should also look at the benefits of social media.
The advisory released Tuesday said children and adolescents are commonly exposed to extreme, inappropriate, and harmful content, and those who spend more than three hours a day on social media face double the risk of poor mental health including experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy cites in his advisory that despite 95% of teenagers’ use of social media, there is still not enough evidence to determine if social media use is sufficiently safe for them.
The advisory cites studies that show social media may perpetuate body dissatisfaction, poor sleep quality, and addiction to certain social media platforms.
“Of course there’s concerns about overuse and how that affects teen adolescent behaviors, concerns about content,” said UC Santa Barbara Communications professor Robin Nabi. “But there’s also some benefits with social media.”
Professor Nabi said some of these benefits include people and families connecting across far distances and providing social support spaces online for those in marginalized groups such as those in ethnic, racial, and sexual minorities.
“Adolescents report feeling more connected with their friends, that they feel like they get more social support from their friends,” said Professor Nabi. “And I wouldn’t want to overlook the fact that it can just be relaxing and fun.”
According the advisory, a majority of adolescents reported that social media helps them feel more accepted, supported through tough times, and provided a space to show their creative side.
Professor Nabi said she likes to use the analogy that social media is like food.
“Food is around us. We have to eat food. We have to use our devices and technology on a daily basis. The question is what’s a healthy media diet?”
Professor Nabi agrees more research needs to be done to understand the healthy way to interact with social media so people get more of the benefits and minimize the cost.
The Surgeon General’s advisory outlines some immediate actions that could make social media safer and healthier. Those included policy makers taking steps to strengthen safety standards and limit access, technology companies being more transparent on the impact of their products on kids, parents and caregivers making plans in their households that foster a healthier relationship with devices and social media, and researches prioritizing social media and youth mental health research.
Professor Nabi said she is currently working on a review on social media and its emotional effects that should be released soon.
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