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Mayor Eric Adams’ Community Op-Ed: Social Media and Youth Mental Health

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New York City has always been a hub for technology and innovation. And while technology has helped create jobs, opportunities, and prosperity, it has also the potential to cause new dangers, especially when it comes to social media and the mental health of our children.

Our administration came into office two years ago with a mission to protect public safety, and protecting our young people’s mental health is very much a part of that agenda. That is why, last week — along with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, New York City Health + Hospitals, and the New York City Department of Education — we filed a lawsuit against the companies that own and operate five social media companies in an effort to hold these companies accountable for role they have played in fueling a mental health crisis among our young people.

Our most recent data found that young people in New York City are experiencing anxiety, hopelessness, and are even attempting suicide at rates we have never seen before. You don’t need to be a parent or caregiver to realize the effects of social media on our children’s lives. Instead of talking to each other over lunch at the cafeteria, our youth are absorbed in their screens. Instead of playing at the park with friends, they are inside on a sunny day clicking and scrolling. And instead of learning confidence and resilience, they are being exposed to content that often leads to insecurity and depression.

New York City teens are spending an average of three hours or more per day in front of screens — not including time spent on schoolwork — much of it focused on the endless stream of social media that has been designed with one goal in mind: keeping users hooked for as long as possible.

Adults find it hard enough to moderate the use of social media, but it’s even more difficult for our young people. We know these platforms are designed with addictive and dangerous features that take advantage of a child’s natural interest in novelty and play.

Social media can damage self-esteem, promote addiction, and often encourages reckless behavior like subway surfing and car theft challenges. We have also seen a dangerous rise in misinformation, xenophobia, radicalization, and incitement to hateful acts.

Instead of connecting people to one another, as our social media companies initially promised, their platforms too often tear us apart. Internal TikTok documents reveal that more than 20 percent of children are active on the platform between midnight and 5:00 AM when they should be sleeping. In recent years, there was a 40 percent increase in high school students reporting persistent sadness and hopelessness.

Dr. Vasan, our city’s health commissioner, released an advisory last month declaring social media a public health hazard, and New York is the first major American city to call out the danger of social media clearly and directly, just as past surgeons general did with tobacco and guns. We are treating social media like other public health hazards.

Last week, we also released our Social Media Action Plan, which will help us chart a new course forward in several key areas. First, we are advocating for state and federal policymakers to put in place laws that require social media companies to ensure that their platforms are safe for youth mental health.

Second, we will be providing media literacy and education to support our young people and families. This includes promoting tech-free zones to encourage young people to socialize in person.

And finally, our action plan will study the long-term impacts of social media on our youth to understand how New York City can better address the harms caused by these platforms.

We know that some have begun working to tackle these issues. While we welcome those efforts, this entire industry must do far more. We must have enforceable and agreed upon standards, not a patchwork of voluntary fixes that ultimately shift the burden back to parents, teachers, and young people.

Our children, our families, and our future are more important than profit. That is why we are taking bold actions on behalf of millions of New Yorkers. This is a crucial step in a larger reckoning that will shape the lives of our young people, our city, and society for years to come.

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