The country’s top health official issued a public warning on Tuesday about the risks posed by social media to young people.
US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy noted that the effects of social media on adolescent mental health were not fully understood and that social media may be helpful to some users. Nevertheless, he wrote, “There is ample evidence that social media may also pose a major risk to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.”
What can parents and young people do now? Murthy gave these tips.
– Seek help: If you or someone you know is negatively affected by social media, reach out to a trusted friend or adult for help. Check out the guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics on social media.
— Set limits: Limit the use of phones, tablets, and computers for at least an hour before bed and throughout the night to ensure you get enough sleep. Keep meals and in-person gatherings device-free to build social bonds and engage in two-way conversations with others. Connect with people face-to-face and make disconnected interactions a daily priority.
— Be careful what you share: personal information about you has value. Be selective with what you post and share online and with whom, as this is often public and can be stored permanently. If you’re not sure if you should post something, it’s usually best if you don’t.
Don’t keep harassment or abuse a secret: Reach out to at least one person you trust, such as a close friend, family member, counselor or teacher, who can give you the help and support you deserve. Visit stopbullying.gov for tips on reporting cyberbullying. If you have experienced online harassment and abuse from a dating partner, please contact a Love is Respect expert for support. If your private photos were taken without your permission and shared online, visit Take It Down to help get them removed.
TIPS FOR PARENTS AND CAREGIVERS
— Create a media plan for the whole family: Agreed expectations can help establish healthy technological boundaries at home, including social media use. A family media plan can promote open family discussion and rules about media use and include topics such as balancing screen/online time, content boundaries, and not disclosing personal information
— Create tech-free zones: limit the use of electronics for at least an hour before bed and during the night. Keep meals and other in-person gatherings technically free. Help children develop social skills and nurture their personal relationships by encouraging unstructured and offline connections with others.
— Model responsible behavior: parents can set a good example of what responsible and healthy use of social media looks like by limiting their own use, being aware of social media habits (including when and how parents share information or content about their child sharing) and modeling positive behavior on your social media accounts.
— Empower Kids: Teach kids about technology and empower them to be responsible online participants at the right age. Discuss with children the benefits and risks of social media, as well as the importance of respecting privacy and protecting personal information in an age-appropriate manner. Have conversations with children about who they interact with, their privacy settings, their online experiences and how they spend their time online.
“Our children and adolescents don’t have the luxury of waiting years until we know the full extent of social media’s impact,” Murthy said in an opinion published Tuesday. “Their youth and development are happening now.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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