Social Media: How Much is Too Much for Young People?

with Andrew Zack of the Family Online Safety Institute

In May 2023, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued the first-ever public health advisory on the negative effects that social media can have on young people.

Andrew Zack, Policy Manager of the Family Online Safety Institute, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss recommendations for developing healthy practices on social media platforms.

Posted on:

July 31, 2023

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: In May of 2023, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued the first ever advisory on social media use and young people's mental health. The advisory stated that there isn't enough evidence to determine whether social media use is sufficiently safe for children and adolescents. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. According to the report, up to 95% of teens are on some form of social media, and those who spend more than three hours a day on the platforms face double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes, including symptoms of depression and anxiety. Joining me to talk about all of this and more is Andrew Zack. He is the Policy Manager for the Family Online Safety Institute. Andrew, thank you so much for joining us.

Zack: Thank you for having me.

Anderson: Let's start with a little bit of context on this. What kinds of things were the Surgeon General and other experts seeing from children and teens when it comes to their online social behavior that really led them to sound the alarm on this?

Zack: Sure. Well, the Surgeon General has been very interested in the mental health of all Americans for a while now, including he's done some other work on loneliness and how that affects all Americans, but specifically kids and teens and their mental health. There's some new research that shows that they are spending a record amount of time online. And so, obviously, that's worth exploring more. And some of the findings of this advisory were that what screen time replaces might actually lead to the most harm. So if the screen time is replacing sleep or exercise or playing with friends or quality time with family, that could be a real problem. So we want families to be empowered to set boundaries around these important development activities.

Anderson: So as usage increase, so does the need to regulate, right? And I'm wondering how difficult it is to navigate some of the controls on these platforms.

Zack: Sure. They can be very overwhelming in that most apps, services, websites themselves have their own safety tools and parental controls, as well as at the device level, on your phone or tablet, as well as maybe even on the Wi-Fi router. So there's a lot, and parents can be overwhelmed. So we definitely suggest the most transparent and clear and easy-to-use controls, and easy to communicate about what controls they have. Some of these tools are really important for user empowerment for themselves, as well. That can include filtering out content that they don't want to see or aren't interested in, mean comments on any posts that they do, as well as reporting or even blocking problematic users. That can be really helpful to everyone's online experiences, especially teens'.

Anderson: In his advisory, the Surgeon General did say that most teens and people who use social media really get a great sense of community from that. But he also went on to say that the greatest sense of community is felt by marginalized communities who are using these platforms. Why is that? What's going on?

Zack: Yeah, this is a really important nuance from this advisory -- that the advisory states that there are benefits and cons, pros and cons to spending time online, especially for youth. So this speaks to some of the benefits, including for the Internet broadly. And so, this can be breaking down barriers, geographic specifically, but finding communities, building communities across race, across religion, sexuality, gender, and more. So the sort of bringing together of everyone.

Anderson: Are there any tips that you can share with all of us -- teens, young adults, adults -- about how we can actually have a healthy relationship with social media?

Zack: Sure. So I would say for families to have these conversations together. Including young people in the conversation and setting the rules makes everyone more likely to follow it and abide by it. We offer setting up a contract, a device contract, whether it's a tablet, laptop, or phone, so that the rules are clear and stated, and to revisit that from time to time as children age and develop and as the platforms themselves change and have maybe new controls or different controls.

Anderson: If people want more tips or other information, what's your website? Where should they look?

Zack: -- And all of our Good Digital Parenting work.

Anderson: Andrew Zack with the Family Online Safety Institute, thank you so much for being here.

Zack: Thank you for having me.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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