Surgeon General offers guidance on social media’s impact on adolescent mental health

Surgeon General offers guidance on social media impact on adolescent mental health Photo credits: © Studio Romantic – © Studio Romantic –

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has released a new advisory, “Social Media and Youth Mental Health,” according to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). …” “It presents an urgent public health problem and provides recommendations on how to deal with it.”2

According to HHS, social media use among young people is nearly universal, with up to 95% of teens ages 13-17 reporting using a social media platform. More than a third said they use social media “almost constantly”. Childhood represents a critical period in brain development, making young people more vulnerable to the harms of social media. The Surgeon General is calling for action by policymakers, technology companies, researchers, families and young people to better understand the full impact of social media use in this demographic.1

“The most common question parents ask me is, ‘Is social media safe for my kids?'”[?]”The answer is that we don’t have enough evidence to say it’s safe, and in fact, evidence is mounting that social media use is associated with harm to young people’s mental health,” Murthy said . “Children are exposed to harmful content on social media, ranging from violent and sexual content to bullying and harassment. And for too many children, social media use interferes with sleep and valuable face-to-face time with family and friends. We are in the midst of a nationwide youth mental health crisis, and I am concerned that social media is a major driver of this crisis – a crisis that we urgently need to address.”1

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According to the Recommendation, the use of social media offers several potential benefits for children and young people, including the ability to access important information and create a space for self-expression. Building and maintaining friendships is a positive aspect of social media in this demographic, as these relationships can create opportunities for positive interactions with more diverse peer groups than is possible offline. The recommendation states that studies have shown that social media can support the mental health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, transgender, queer, intersex and other youth by enhancing peer connection, identity development and social enable support. Seven in 10 teenage girls of color report encountering positive or identity-affirming content related to race on social media platforms. A majority (58%) of young people say social media helps them feel more accepted. 67% feel like they have people who can support them during tough times, 71% feel like they have a place to show their creative side, and 80% feel like they’re empowered with the connected to what is happening in their friends’ lives. In addition, according to the Recommendation, research suggests that social media or digital-based mental health interventions may be helpful for some adolescents and adolescents by promoting help-seeking behaviors or as a gateway to mental health care.2

The potential benefits come with potential problems of overuse of social media among youth and adolescents. According to the HHS, research shows that teens who spend more than three hours a day on social media are twice as likely to experience bad mental health outcomes, such as symptoms of depression and anxiety. A 2021 survey found that teenagers spend an average of 3.5 hours a day on social media. A third or more of girls aged 11 to 15 said they felt “addicted” to certain social media platforms, while over half of teens said it was difficult to give up social media. Body dissatisfaction, disordered eating behaviors, social comparison and low self-esteem, particularly in adolescent girls, may also be perpetuated through social media.1

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According to statistics provided in the Surgeon General’s Advice, 46% of teens ages 13 to 17 said social media makes them feel worse about their body image. Forty percent said it made them feel neither better nor worse, while 14% said it made them feel better.2

The Surgeon General’s advice offers recommendations that stakeholders can implement to ensure children and families have the tools they need to make social media safer for youth. The report recommends that policymakers strengthen safety standards and restrict access “in a way that makes social media safer for children of all ages, better protects children’s privacy, promotes digital and media literacy, and funds additional research.” Technology companies can more transparently assess the impact of their products on children and share data with independent researchers to improve the collective understanding of social media impacts. In addition, the Recommendation urges technology companies to make design and development decisions that prioritize safety and health, including protecting children’s privacy and improving minimum age compliance.1

The Surgeon General encourages parents and caregivers to make plans in their homes, such as creating tech-free zones and encouraging better personal relationships. The recommendation recommends teaching children responsible online behavior, modeling that behavior, and reporting problematic content and activity. Kids and teens can learn healthy behaviors like limiting time on platforms and blocking unwanted content. HHS advises children to be careful about what personal information is shared and to speak up if they or a friend need help or notice abuse on social platforms. For researchers, the Surgeon General recommends prioritizing further research on social media and youth mental health that can support the standards and evaluation of best practices.1

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“Today’s children and adolescents do not know a world without digital technology, but the digital world was not created with the healthy mental development of children in mind,” said Sandy Chung, MD, FAAP, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “We need an approach to helping children both online and offline that meets each child where they are while working to make the digital spaces they live in safer and healthier.” The Advisory des Surgeon General calls for exactly this approach. The American Academy of Pediatrics looks forward to working with the Surgeon General and other federal leaders in youth mental health and social media on this important work.”1


1. The Surgeon General issues a new advisory on the impact of social media use on young people’s mental health. May 23, 2023. Accessed May 23, 2023. use-has-youth-mental-health.html

2. Social Media and Mental Health in Young People – The US Surgeon General’s Advisory Guide. May 23, 2023. Accessed May 23, 2023.