Center intended to make social media platforms safer for children and youth by developing and disseminating information, guidance, training on the impact of social media use
As part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Strategy to Address the National Mental Health Crisis, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), awarded $2 million in funding Thursday to the American Academy of Pediatrics to establish a National Center of Excellence on Social Media and Mental Wellness.
The purpose of the Center is to develop and disseminate information, guidance, and training on the impact—including risks and benefits—that social media use has on children and young people, especially the risks to their mental health. It will also examine clinical and social interventions that can be used to prevent and mitigate the risks.
“There are benefits to social media use, but there are clearly risks, too – especially when it comes to mental health,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “This new center will help our families better protect our children from lurking dangers. And it’s one more example of HHS’ commitment to strengthen mental health.”
“The increasing number of young people diagnosed with anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions is concerning,” said Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D., HHS Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use and the leader of SAMHSA. “Prior research has indicted that social media may be harmful, particularly to children and young people. We expect this new Center to shed light on this challenge and provide us with best practices and guide us in protecting young people.”
As stated in the U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory on protecting youth mental health (PDF | 1MB), there is a wide range of causes for the national mental health crisis but there is mounting evidence (PDF | 1 MB) that social media is harmful to many kids’ and teens’ mental health, well-being, and development. Social media platforms are privately owned and are driven by algorithms to maximize user engagement for profit. Therefore, they can and do expose young people to content that may not be appropriate; can promote unhealthy social comparisons; can exacerbate social isolation, anxiety, self-doubt, and depression; and can enable harassment, stalking and cyber bullying.
The Center will focus on three priorities: 1) education and resources around the risks and benefits of social media use for children and youth; 2) culturally and linguistically appropriate technical assistance focusing on active learning, consultation, and support on how to best assist children and youth when interfacing with the digital world in a way that enhances their mental health while reducing harm; and 3) best practices and research updates.
The HHS funding provides $2 million per year, up to five years.