A report from U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy warned...

A report from U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy warned social media had “a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.” Credit: AP/Susan Walsh

Social media creates “a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents,” a newly released U.S. surgeon general’s advisory finds, but it also can offer important social support, findings that echo what Long Island experts, parents and teenagers believe.

The report from Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy cites studies that link kids’ excessive social media use with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor body image and loss of sleep, and it warns of effects on brain development.

From TikTok to Snapchat to Instagram, social media has become a central part of American kids’ lives. Eighth- and 10th-graders spend an average of 3½ hours a day on social media, and more than a third of youth ages 13 to 17 report using it “almost constantly,” the advisory says, citing research.

That type of “excessive and addictive screen use” can cause serious harm, said Anthony Anzalone, a clinical psychologist at Stony Brook Medicine.
“We want our children to experience real-world connections with peers,” he said.

Social media can complement that, but “it becomes problematic when it becomes the primary source of connection,” Anzalone said.
When social media takes time away from sleep and physical activity, it “can have an effect on the developing brain that could last throughout adulthood,” he said.

Rianna Baecher, 17, a senior at Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington, said when she spent hours every day on TikTok, she often viewed images of teenage girls and young women with fit bodies, well-proportioned noses, expensive clothes and cars, fake tans, and lots of friends, and “over time it made me feel so unworthy.”

Baecher said her friends felt the same. “People hate themselves and start hating other people,” she said.

Two years ago, she deleted TikTok from her phone and now is almost never on social media.

“I feel a lot happier, a lot more free,” she said.

Dr. Michael Birnbaum, an assistant professor in the Institute of Behavioral Science at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in Manhasset and a psychiatrist at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Queens, said “there is a lot of junk online.” But, he said, “I believe there are a lot of strengths and it holds a lot of promise and a ton of potential.”

Birnbaum said kids tell him they often are reluctant to talk with parents and friends about mental health concerns and sometimes find assistance online.

“They're lonely and isolated, and social media provides an opportunity to connect with other folks who are like-minded and could provide the support they need in order to thrive and flourish,” he said.

The surgeon general's report acknowledges potential benefits, saying social media can be especially helpful for LGBTQ and racial and ethnic minority youth, who can find “identity-affirming content.”

David Kilmnick, president and CEO of the Hauppauge-based LGBT Network, said that on social media, LGBTQ kids “can feel part of a community and not alone.”

Liz Gutierrez of Hauppauge, a volunteer with the state’s Latina Mentoring Initiative who gives presentations on social media in Long Island schools, allows her 10-year-old daughter to use Snapchat, which she uses to communicate with friends. But, she said, she installed parental controls, has access to the phone’s history and limits her use to an hour each day.

“I deliberately go through her phone to make sure there’s nothing fishy or there are strangers talking to her,” she said.

Anzalone advised parents to “have a constant dialogue with your children on what they're using social media for, and to really engage them to be critical thinkers about what's healthy and unhealthy.”

Gaby Sorin, 18, a senior at Schreiber, said although social media can be damaging — she has seen videos on TikTok that give tips on self-harm techniques — it also can “give people the resources they need.” She volunteers for a nonprofit that provides mental-health help via texting, and many kids find out about the service through TikTok, she said.

But Michael Hynes, superintendent of Port Washington Union Free School District, said he has seen kids as young as 7 on TikTok, where they “see videos that are adultlike that they shouldn’t be seeing.”

He also worries about the potential long-lasting psychological damage from cyberbullying, in which “the whole school community can actually see somebody else being bullied.”

Birnbaum said although there are many beneficial resources on social media, “there are algorithms that ensure that sensationalized videos are the ones that are seen first, the ones that are most liked, most shared.”

Echoing what the report concludes, Birnbaum said technology companies have a responsibility to share data so researchers can better understand the effect of social media on youth, and to change algorithms to highlight more positive, healthy content.

“There’s an opportunity to use the same algorithms to promote content that is good, and content that supports kids and provides them what they need in the moment,” he said. “And that could be really, really powerful.”

Social media creates “a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents,” a newly released U.S. surgeon general’s advisory finds, but it also can offer important social support, findings that echo what Long Island experts, parents and teenagers believe.

The report from Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy cites studies that link kids’ excessive social media use with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor body image and loss of sleep, and it warns of effects on brain development.

From TikTok to Snapchat to Instagram, social media has become a central part of American kids’ lives. Eighth- and 10th-graders spend an average of 3½ hours a day on social media, and more than a third of youth ages 13 to 17 report using it “almost constantly,” the advisory says, citing research.

That type of “excessive and addictive screen use” can cause serious harm, said Anthony Anzalone, a clinical psychologist at Stony Brook Medicine.
“We want our children to experience real-world connections with peers,” he said.

WHAT PARENTS CAN DO

The American Psychological Association and Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy say parents can help their kids have more positive social-media experiences. Among their suggestions:

  • Prohibit screen time that interferes with at least eight hours of sleep a night.

  • Consider keeping in-person gatherings and family mealtimes device-free.
  • Limit your own social media use to set a good example.
  • Talk with your kids about the benefits and risks of social media.
  • Look for signs of problems, such as choosing social media over in-person social interaction, experiencing strong cravings to check social media, and not getting enough physical activity.

Social media can complement that, but “it becomes problematic when it becomes the primary source of connection,” Anzalone said.
When social media takes time away from sleep and physical activity, it “can have an effect on the developing brain that could last throughout adulthood,” he said.

Rianna Baecher, 17, a senior at Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington, said when she spent hours every day on TikTok, she often viewed images of teenage girls and young women with fit bodies, well-proportioned noses, expensive clothes and cars, fake tans, and lots of friends, and “over time it made me feel so unworthy.”

Baecher said her friends felt the same. “People hate themselves and start hating other people,” she said.

Two years ago, she deleted TikTok from her phone and now is almost never on social media.

“I feel a lot happier, a lot more free,” she said.

Dr. Michael Birnbaum, an assistant professor in the Institute of Behavioral Science at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in Manhasset and a psychiatrist at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Queens, said “there is a lot of junk online.” But, he said, “I believe there are a lot of strengths and it holds a lot of promise and a ton of potential.”

Birnbaum said kids tell him they often are reluctant to talk with parents and friends about mental health concerns and sometimes find assistance online.

“They're lonely and isolated, and social media provides an opportunity to connect with other folks who are like-minded and could provide the support they need in order to thrive and flourish,” he said.

The surgeon general's report acknowledges potential benefits, saying social media can be especially helpful for LGBTQ and racial and ethnic minority youth, who can find “identity-affirming content.”

David Kilmnick, president and CEO of the Hauppauge-based LGBT Network, said that on social media, LGBTQ kids “can feel part of a community and not alone.”

Liz Gutierrez of Hauppauge, a volunteer with the state’s Latina Mentoring Initiative who gives presentations on social media in Long Island schools, allows her 10-year-old daughter to use Snapchat, which she uses to communicate with friends. But, she said, she installed parental controls, has access to the phone’s history and limits her use to an hour each day.

“I deliberately go through her phone to make sure there’s nothing fishy or there are strangers talking to her,” she said.

Anzalone advised parents to “have a constant dialogue with your children on what they're using social media for, and to really engage them to be critical thinkers about what's healthy and unhealthy.”

Gaby Sorin, 18, a senior at Schreiber, said although social media can be damaging — she has seen videos on TikTok that give tips on self-harm techniques — it also can “give people the resources they need.” She volunteers for a nonprofit that provides mental-health help via texting, and many kids find out about the service through TikTok, she said.

But Michael Hynes, superintendent of Port Washington Union Free School District, said he has seen kids as young as 7 on TikTok, where they “see videos that are adultlike that they shouldn’t be seeing.”

He also worries about the potential long-lasting psychological damage from cyberbullying, in which “the whole school community can actually see somebody else being bullied.”

Birnbaum said although there are many beneficial resources on social media, “there are algorithms that ensure that sensationalized videos are the ones that are seen first, the ones that are most liked, most shared.”

Echoing what the report concludes, Birnbaum said technology companies have a responsibility to share data so researchers can better understand the effect of social media on youth, and to change algorithms to highlight more positive, healthy content.

“There’s an opportunity to use the same algorithms to promote content that is good, and content that supports kids and provides them what they need in the moment,” he said. “And that could be really, really powerful.”

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