The US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has warned that excessive use of social media by young people carries serious health risks.
“Teens who use social media for more than three hours a day face double the risk of depression and anxiety symptoms, which is particularly concerning given that the average amount of time that kids use social media is 3 1/2 hours a day,” the Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep.
According to the advisory, 95% of teenagers ages 13-17 say they use a social media app, and more than a third say they use it “almost constantly.” The Social Media and Youth Mental Health advisory says social media can perpetuate “body dissatisfaction, disordered eating behaviors, social comparison, and low self-esteem, especially among adolescent girls.”
Nearly 1 in 3 adolescents report using screens until midnight or later, the advisory says. And most are using social media during that time.
It is obvious that such high usage must be filling some kind of need. But what need exactly? Are these young people bored and have no other activities to occupy them? Are they lonely and finding some kind of ersatz companionship among the other users? We know that social media sites measure success (and reap profits) by the amount of time that people spend on their sites and use algorithms to lure them in and get them to stay. But how much variety can they provide? Surely boredom has to set in at some point unless these young people feel that there is nothing better going on in their real lives.
Furthermore, there are real dangers in the form of these viral challenges that urge people to do dangerous things just to get views on the internet or even just for the hell of it, for the thrill of taking up a dare. I was shocked to read that about 1400 (and possibly many more) young people have actually died as a result of taking up something called the blackout challenge.
Social media challenges involve people recording themselves doing something dramatic, funny or risky. The videos often go viral. Some of these dares, however, can be dangerous. Like the blackout challenge, which is when someone holds their breath until they pass out.
Griffin is one of an estimated 1,385 children known to have died from the blackout challenge, according to a nonprofit called Erik’s Cause, which was founded by Judy Rogg, whose son also died from a choking game.
“That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” McGrath said. “The only ones we know of are the people that go to the news or find each other.”
YouTube spokesperson Brittany Stagnaro told NPR that the company’s policy is to remove videos that involve challenges with asphyxiation or choking. But, McGrath said she sees such videos and reports them daily. Often they’re not taken down. She said some videos have remained on the site for years.
Children have long challenged their peers to breath holding contests that result in them ending up gasping for air. But you would expect that in almost all cases, the basic life-preservation instinct would kick in and they would begin to breathe again before they pass out and die. What social media seems to be doing is greatly increase the number of people taking such dangerous challenges. Then even if the probability of someone taking it too far and dying is small, the large number of people now trying it can result in the number of deaths far exceeding what we are used to.
Parents of young children these days clearly have a challenge in how to educate them on the reasonable use of social media.