How New York’s teens reacted to the Surgeon General’s social media warning

In Manhattan, a high school freshman said he was trying to cut down on TikTok scrolling, but wondered if age restrictions on social media use might ever effectively stop teenage savvy teens. technology.

Another senior from Queens said social media is essential for socializing, but lamented its transformation from an enjoyable activity into an obligation.

And outside a Brooklyn high school, a sophomore said he disdains the addictive power of social media and the way it “manipulates our reward centers”. Yet he did not believe that legal restrictions were appropriate.

The teens’ reactions came hours after the US surgeon general warned on Tuesday that social media can pose a “profound risk” to the mental health and well-being of young people.

The warning added new fuel to a nationwide conversation about the effects of social media use on children and teens – and how policymakers, tech companies and families should step in to limit it. . The Biden administration said Tuesday it would create a task force to study the implications and offer recommendations.

But in the nation’s largest school system, interviews with more than a dozen the teens revealed a nuanced view of social media and the complex ways they struggle with its pervasive presence. (Some of the students’ surnames are withheld due to their age.)

“I really blame myself,” said Jack Brown, 15, a sophomore at Brooklyn Technical High School in Fort Greene. “I could rant all day about why I don’t like social media and why I think it’s one of the big cancers of our generation.”

Still, he added, “I just don’t think the government should have that kind of regulation on our own social lives.”

The surgeon general’s report came at a time of intense public pressure on social media companies to curb the way teenagers – and especially young children – use the platforms. According to some research, almost 40% of children between the ages of 8 and 12 use social media, even though most platforms require a higher minimum age.

In recent years, a growing number of states have entered the fray, passing laws requiring parental consent for social media use. In Washington and California, some school districts have even sued top platforms, arguing that their content harms young people. And as teachers face a youth mental health crisis exacerbated by the pandemic, some experts have questioned whether social media is adding to the challenges.

But on Tuesday, many teens said social media would be nearly impossible to disentangle from their lives.

“Social media is just something you have to have in our generation,” said Adelina Zaripova, 15, a sophomore from Staten Island who attends Brooklyn Tech.

She added that she found the intense political focus on young people’s use of social media to be “pretty funny”.

“For example, I know my grandma spends her days sitting on her phone watching funny cat videos on TikTok,” Adelina said.

Many have also wondered if adults grasp the potential benefits.

A freshman in Bushwick, Brooklyn, said his passion for cars grew from scrolling through Instagram, for example. Another junior said social media helped her enroll in college.

And two college girls said TikTok had helped them open their eyes to other people’s lives and improve their Spanish skills. Yet they acknowledged that their experiences were not always positive.

Daurelis, a student at Philippa Schuyler Middle School, said she was often followed online by “creeps” after posting makeup tutorials on TikTok. And recently her self-esteem was damaged after a struggle with cyberbullying, she said.

“I was called names,” said Daurelis, who is 13. “They were saying a lot of hurtful things.”

“There is always discrimination and racism on social media,” replied her classmate, Charlize, 13.

The surgeon general on Tuesday implored policymakers and tech companies to “take urgent action” to guard against these online risks. Some teens said the post echoed what they had previously called for.

In her school newspaper, for example, 15-year-old Sadathi Hettiarachchige recently wrote an opinion piece arguing for a more restrictive age limit on Instagram. Sadathi, a freshman at Brooklyn Tech, said she and her friends recently found themselves “looking in the mirror” – and scrutinizing their appearance.

“And I realize that,” she said. “And I’m like, ‘Stop it!'”

As some states like Utah and Arkansas tighten restrictions on social media, some experts — and teenagers — wonder if the new laws will have the desired effect.

“We’re in a bit of a mess here,” said Bradford Suthammanont, 15, a freshman at a midtown Manhattan high school, who added that tech companies had “no incentive” to bring significant changes.

Several young New Yorkers said the best way forward was to let families help kids navigate social media, though they also admitted that option had limitations.

Emmanuel, 13, a student at Achievement First North Brooklyn Prep Middle School, said his time online initially worried his immigrant parents, who had little knowledge of popular platforms.

“I actually helped them monitor my social media so they could trust me,” Emmanuel said.


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