Good morning. Today is Thursday. Social media poses “profound risks” for young people, the health secretary says. We’ll see how teenagers in New York react to his warning.
The Director of the Public Health Service issued a public advisory this week warning that social media could harm young people. Adolescents are “not just smaller adults,” says surgeon Dr. Vivek Murthy. “They’re at different developmental stages, and they’re at a critical stage of brain development.”
He sounded the alarm in a 19-page report advising families to stay off electronic devices during mealtimes and in-person gatherings. He also said tech companies should enforce minimum age restrictions “in a manner that respects the privacy of teenage users” and ensure that default settings for children are “set to the highest standards of safety and privacy.”
I talked to our education reporter, troy crossenhe and several colleagues New York children and youth react to the report.
The Surgeon General’s report says social media can damage the mental health and wellbeing of children and adolescents, but also says the impact of social media on adolescent mental health is not fully understood. The research is inconclusive and somewhat contradictory.
This is one of the challenges.
Teenagers themselves will tell you that social media has its downsides, too. They talk about bad experiences with cyberbullying or dealing with online discrimination or being the recipient of a pile of classmates.
But the Surgeon General himself admits there are benefits. Upshot has a story On How Social Media Matters to Many LGBTQ Teens.
You talk to children and teens, telling them that surgeons have warned of a “serious risk of harm” from social media. what did they say
The reaction to the news is usually “we already know”. For many, the value of Dr. Murthy’s report lies not in the new information, but in the compilation of existing information.
Many times, adults don’t fully understand the benefits of social media, some teens said. They talked about how Instagram opened their eyes to new career paths, or how TikTok taught them new cultures.
They also said that while they were aware of some of the hazards, it was more important to be more candid about them so they could better navigate them.
I think that’s where we’re at, trying to create a roadmap for the reality of the world right now. Kids will use social media. How do we make sure their experience is as smooth as possible?
What do teens think is a hazard?
One problem, many teens say, is how much time they spend online in the first place.
Our colleague Wesley Parnell has also spoken to several middle school students who said someone was trying to hack their accounts, they were being impersonated and their reputations were damaged by rumours.
For other students, living in an online world outside of social media can be tough. Some people struggle with the fact that they often see their “ideal” body and figure in pictures online. They examine themselves and compare themselves. Therefore, spending time online can affect their self-image.
But this is nothing new.
It is not. It’s one of those things that teens have been dealing with for a long time, and now it’s gaining political attention.
One of the teens we interviewed was a high school sophomore. She said she started an art account on Instagram when she was 11 and in middle school. She wants to turn it into a business and “make a name for herself”. But she’s so focused on views, likes, comments, and shares that she’s really starting to lose her sense of self as an artist, even at that age. She’s been thinking about how she wants to use social media and what her own personal guidelines are so she doesn’t repeat the same mistakes.
Doesn’t the Surgeon General’s report highlight the fact that existed long before social media—many, if not most, parents live in a different world from many, if not most, teens?
Many of the teens we spoke to said their parents had no idea how much they used social media or what they were doing online.
Some argue that instead of passing laws or getting tech companies involved, it’s better for families to learn more quickly about what’s going on — and for kids to be more willing to share what they’re doing than for tech companies to get involved. Meanwhile, some parents are seeking help themselves to cope with it all.
One student interviewed by our colleague Olivia Bensimon described a very traumatic experience with cyberbullying. She described it as like she really had a nervous breakdown. She confides in friends, but not her parents. Some teens said they had been in such overwhelming situations and asked themselves, “Next time, should I tell my parents?”
Another student told us there are bigger issues missing from the current national conversation. Some young people are using social media and spending a lot of time online as an escape and looking for the community and stability they may struggle to get in the real world. Teens tell us why they want adults to pay attention.
Some places have passed laws requiring young people to seek parental consent to use social media. But that’s pointless, isn’t it? Social media is just something you have to have.
That’s the first thing we hear from the teens we talk to. At the end of the day, requiring parental consent is just another hurdle for kids to get around, and they’ll get around it.
Social media is obviously very important to the way many young people communicate and deal with the world – being a Gen Z myself, it’s a huge part of my life. For many of the teens we interviewed, they agreed that there was potential harm, but when it came to solutions, their answers were less clear.
Dr Murthy called on tech companies to enforce minimum age restrictions. But some kids tell you that social media companies have no incentive to limit who can sign up and log in.
We are in the midst of a youth mental health crisis that has been made worse by the pandemic, but it started before. People have been questioning the possible role of social media and technology companies in this crisis. But while pressure is mounting on tech companies to make changes, experts say caveats in existing laws limit their real impact on young people.
Enjoyed a sunny day with heat approaching 69 degrees and a light breeze. In the evening, expect mostly clear skies and lows around 53 degrees with light breezes.
Alternate Side Parking
Effective today. Suspension tomorrow (Pentecost).
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call and response
It was late afternoon on an unusually mild Friday night in February. I’m walking briskly down Fifth Street toward Second Avenue, wondering if we’re getting our first taste of spring while trying not to trip over broken sections of sidewalk.
I saw a man walking towards me. He put the phone to his ear. As he got closer, he took the phone away from his face.
“Marco!” he yelled.
He put the phone back to his ear and paused.
“Marco!” he called again.
This time, I heard an echoing voice behind me from across the road.
“Polo!” said the voice.
The man grinned as we passed
— Rachel Misner
Pictured is Agnes Lee. send submission here and Read more Urban Diaries here.