U.S. surgeon general says social media is affecting youth mental health

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – The U.S. surgeon general has issued a health advisory on social media use among teens, calling for more research on its effects.

The advisory from Dr. Vivek Murthy says that between the ages of 10 and 19, when many people start using social media, kids are still forming their identities and are more susceptible to social pressures.

Ciera Kirkpatrick, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said we often make social comparisons to the people we see online.

“Social media is very idealized,” she said. “It’s a highlight reel. It’s something that’s so easy to compare ourselves to, and when we make those comparisons, we start to feel envious. We start to have anxiety that makes us feel bad about ourselves.”

The advisory says teenagers spend about 3½ hours on average per day on social media, and many are exposed to harmful or extreme content.

Murthy said lawmakers should work with platforms to limit potentially harmful content, enforce minimum age requirements and be more transparent about what they’re showing people.

“Social media makes it so easy to cultivate the persona that you want the world to see,” Kirkpatrick said. “You get to pick what you show and what you don’t show. You get to use editing features and filters and really portray things that aren’t what real life is. So that’s what makes it so easy for other people to have this distorted reality in their heads.”

SEE ALSO: Lincoln psychologist blames social media for decline in teen girls’ mental health

Experts say more digital and medica literacy curriculum in schools will help kids have a better understanding of how to better protect their mental health when online.

“So, if you notice that you are feeling bad about yourself after you always see content from a certain user, then you should probably unfollow that user,” Kirkpatrick said.

She said speaking with a therapist or counselor, or even friends and family, about what you see online can help.

SEE ALSO: 8 tips for parents and teens on social media use — from the U.S. surgeon general

The advisory notes that social media can provide some benefits like connecting people who would otherwise be isolated.

But to stay safe, experts advise parents to act as a role model for responsible social media behavior.

The surgeon general said parents should create family media plans, establish tech-free zones and encourage children to make in-person friendships outside of their online ones.

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