HAP Blog

How Long Should Teens Spend on Social Media?

Surgeon general’s advisory says more research is needed

May 24, 2023

The U.S. surgeon general is the latest public health official to raise alarms about social media and youth mental health.

In a new advisory released this week, Dr. Vivek Murthy, U.S. surgeon general, called for more research and action to help children navigate the online world. The report notes that 95 percent of children between 13 and 17 are on social media, and more than a third say they use it “almost constantly.”

It also highlights the “ample indicators” that social media poses a risk to youth mental health.

“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 said. “Our children have become unknowing participants in a decades-long experiment.” 

The advisory includes key action steps for the following groups:

  • Policymakers play a role to develop safety and privacy standards for technology platforms and support the development of digital and media literacy initiatives
  • Technology companies should prioritize safety and health when making design and development decisions, “including protecting children’s privacy and better adhering to age minimums”
  • Parents can establish “ tech-free zones that better foster in-person relationships” and teach children about responsible online behavior
  • Children can adopt healthy practices, such as limiting time on apps and blocking unwanted content, while being careful about the information they share
  • Researchers should study the ways social media affects youth mental health and support the establishment of national standards to address the issue

“At a moment when we are experiencing a national youth mental health crisis, now is the time to act swiftly and decisively to protect children and adolescents from risk of harm,” the advisory concludes.

The report follows another health advisory from the American Psychological Association on safe social media use for children and ways to encourage healthy online behavior.

Previous surgeon general advisories have focused on health misinformation and youth mental health.

The surgeon general’s advisory on social media and youth mental health is available online.

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