We can no longer overlook the abundance of warning signs and risks to adolescent mental health posed by social media. With up to 95% of youth ages 13 to 17 using a social media platform, the issue has become so concerning that the Surgeon General issued a warning. Yet the warning signs continue to mount, and CEOs of social media companies have been subject to Congressional questioning regarding documented harm against children and adolescents on their platforms. In January, New York City Mayor Eric Adams designated social media as a public health hazard. Public officials are beginning to call on social media companies to take responsibility for the harm they have created.

We know now that certain kinds of social media use during specific windows of brain and emotional development show a correlative relationship with poor mental health outcomes for children, i.e., depression and anxiety, social comparison and low self-esteem, and poor sleep quality—to name a few. It's time to change the trajectory of this growing crisis.

It'll take a collective effort to tackle the youth mental health crisis. One strategy that has proven successful in places like Europe and Australia is the precautionary principle, which would suggest that in the absence of complete evidence of social media's causation of harm, based on what we now know, the harm to adolescents outweighs the harm of regulating algorithms and screen time on certain social sites. The principle also implies there is a social responsibility to protect the public from harm, particularly harm that is not immediately visible. Simply put, rather than wait for further evidence, we know that an unacceptable level of harm is occurring. Further, we have a social responsibility to lower adolescents' exposure and dosage to the source of harm right now.

Social media doesn't need to be replaced but instead managed in some fashion. It has and will continue to offer young people many benefits. By applying the precautionary principle, we can find a way to regulate these platforms and how long adolescents use them. This would be a worthwhile start.

How do we begin to implement change? It takes several stakeholders. The product developer should first acknowledge or address the negative externalities that their product creates—like a pack of cigarettes having a warning sign on every box about the health risks the product poses. While we can't add a sticker to every social media post, developers could prominently display a disclaimer about potential misuse and overuse or a link to helpful resources and communities children can reach out to. If social media platforms first regulate themselves, we might avoid further legislative regulation, if that self-regulation leads to eliminating potential harm.

Read the full article about social media and youth mental health by Mark Cloutier at Forbes.