June 9, 2023
New York City Mayor Eric Adams and New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan yesterday held a summit on social media, assembling national experts to lay out potential pathways for action to protect the mental health of children and youth. The summit included representatives from government, academia, advocacy, and youth work, as well as young people themselves.
“Social media is a Trojan horse — it’s entered into our homes under false pretenses, promising increased social connection but too often delivering the opposite,” said Mayor Adams. “If we don’t really look at the impact that it’s having, it will continue to leave lasting scars on our young people. That’s why this convening was so important — we brought young people, scientists, and public health leaders together to understand this media and develop a strategy to combat it. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll develop a report to guide our work in protecting young people from this threat to our public health.”
“Social media is a part of our culture, particularly for young people,” said Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Anne Williams-Isom. “This summit elevated the voices of young people as we all work together to create a framework for healthier interactions with these platforms. I look forward to continuing the ongoing work of the administration in this area and centering the voices of young people every step of the way.”
“This gathering was an amazing collaboration between young people, academics, parents, educators, and government,” said DOHMH Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan. “In working together to discuss the impact of social media on youth mental health and potential solutions, we will, together, craft a roadmap for action on addressing this digital toxin, and employing public health strategies grounded in education, harm reduction, policy, research, regulation, and litigation. We will draw from the rich discussions to address the challenge before us. I’m grateful to everyone who shared their time to make this event a successful one, and the first stake in the ground to demonstrate our city’s commitment to keeping our kids safe.”
The summit was first announced in March as one of the strategies included in “Care, Community, Action: A Mental Health Plan for New York City.” It also follows a report from the U.S. Surgeon General that recognized the potential harms to young people due to social media, and is the first nationwide stake in the ground towards a long-term citywide strategy to address social media as a potential public health threat. The summit included two panel discussions — “The Future of Social Media and its Implications for Children’s Mental Health” and “Challenges and Opportunities in Regulating Social Media Technologies” — as well as four working sessions focused on public health, research, policy, and litigation. The findings from the summit will inform a coming mayoral report on social media.
The gathering comes amid a growing need to address social media overuse, as well as to identify threats to young people’s wellness. For example, in 2021, 38 percent of New York City high schoolers reported feeling so sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks during the past 12 months that they stopped doing their usual activities. The same year, 42 percent of Latino/a students and 41 percent of Black students reported feeling sad or hopeless, compared to just under 30 percent of white students. Over the past 10 years, rates of suicidal ideation among high schoolers increased by more than 34 percent.
Mayor Adams’ mental health plan lays out additional strategies to promote the mental health of young people, including a digital mental health program for New York City high school-aged teens, a suicide prevention pilot programming at NYC Health + Hospitals for youth entering emergency departments for suicide attempts, and DOHMH-led community-based suicide prevention programming to specifically serve Black and Brown youth.
New Yorkers in need of support can receive free assistance by calling 988.
“I am so excited to see New York City lead the nation with a thoughtful, informed, and exciting day of discussions and action steps that will help children minimize harms and maximize the potential benefits from social media,” said Mitch Prinstein, PhD, chief science officer, American Psychological Association.
“I was amazed by both the passion and the specific product ideas of New York City’s youth. I learned a lot from them,” said Ravi Iyer, PhD, managing director, Neely Center, USC Marshall School of Business. “In a time of national political gridlock, it’s great to see local governments leading the way on these critical issues.”
“Our young people are very aware that social media use is a double-edged sword for them, as they told us during the summit and as research shows,” said Dr. Michael A. Lindsey, dean and professor of social work, NYU Silver School of Social Work. “We learned from them that they turn to social media for connection. They also find it to be addicting and feel let down by the experience as they are awash in content and messages that are disturbing on many levels. They want parents and caregivers to dig deeper to find out what they are experiencing online. Are we listening?”
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