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Surgeon General Advisory Shows Social Media Is Driving Mental Health Crisis Among Teens

Government says U.S. Kids Have Been 'unknowing participants in a decades-long experiment'

A new report from the U.S. Surgeon General finds that social media usage is driving the historic surge in mental health issues in teenagers and U.S. college students.

The surgeon general’s latest advisory cites a study showing that adolescents who spend more than three hours per day on social media face double the risk of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety.

Also cited in the report is a separate study showing that 8th and 10th graders “now spend an average of 3.5 hours per day on social media,” while “up to 95 percent of youth ages 13–17 report using a social media platform, with more than a third saying they use social media ‘almost constantly.’” According to the study’s co-author, social media “may have contributed to more than 300,000 new cases of depression.”

The report, which was released on May 23, comes on the heels of new data showing that American youth are suffering at ever-increasing rates.

“Teen depression started to rise around 2012, a time that coincides with the popularity of smartphones,” Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of Generations: The Real Differences between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers and Silents—and What They Mean for America’s Future, told NBC News.

“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,” the Surgeon General’s advisory states. “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.”

Government officials are calling on policymakers to be more proactive to ensure greater safety for children and adolescents who use social media. The recommendations include requiring more data privacy for children, develop appropriate health and safety standards, and increase funding for research.

The government is also recommending tech companies prioritize user health and safety in the design of their products, and that families create a family media plan to establish expectations and boundaries on social media use.

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