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Social media and youth: A call to action

Posted: Nov 17, 2023

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Principal author(s)

Michelle Ponti MD; Canadian Paediatric Society, Digital Health Task Force

There is a growing understanding of the potential for negative effects of social media on youth – with the U.S. Surgeon General and the American Psychological Association both issuing advisories in May. Emerging evidence published since the Canadian Paediatric Society’s 2019 position statement on digital media use by school-aged children and adolescents correlates social media use and adverse mental health impacts—effects that have magnified since the onset of the pandemic. Evidence gaps exist on the long-term impacts of social media use and overuse due to novel technologies, but there are enough red flags to warrant action. We are in the midst of a youth mental health crisis that demands meaningful and conscientious mitigation measures.

The CPS has called on health care providers to counsel families on healthy screen use and for families to use strategies such as media plans and screen-free times. In a mediascape increasingly dominated by tech giants, it is no longer effective or appropriate to put the onus on individuals. It is urgent for social media developers to safeguard the well-being of youth, and for governments to hold these companies to basic standards of safety – just like with any other publicly available product or service.

To that end, policymakers should:

  • Strengthen standards for age-verification within social media apps, prioritizing users' safety and privacy.
  • Fund continued research on the short- and long-term impacts of social media use on child and youth health and well-being, making the data publicly available.
  • Require social media developers to adhere to strict standards on the data they collect from minors and give youth increased control over how that data is used (e.g., how their algorithms are constructed.)
  • Require that information on engaged and critical use of social media be included in educator-training models and incorporate up-to-date media literacy curricula into all schools starting at the elementary level.
  • Restrict harmful advertising from being directed at children and youth (e.g., gambling, vaping, alcohol, unhealthy food)

A hallmark of adolescent health is respect for youth autonomy. Since social media is used almost universally by youth 13-18 years old, with implications for their well-being, social media platform developers should:

  • Be transparent with the data they collect on the impact and use of their products on children and adolescents.
  • Prioritize child and youth health in the development and design of new social media programs.
  • Ensure youth have greater control over the content they view.
  • Further protect children and youth from hateful and abusive content, online bullying, sexual exploitation, and other harmful interactions.

The CPS supports the recommendations of the Alliance for Protecting Children’s Rights and Safety Online. An updated statement on the benefits and risks of social media use by school-aged children and adolescents is in development by the Canadian Paediatric Society’s Digital Health Task Force.


Members: Stacey Bélanger MD, Ruth Grimes MD, Janice Cohen MD (Canadian Psychological Association), Janice Heard MD, Michelle Jackman MD, Matthew Johnson (MediaSmarts), Katherine Matheson MD (Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry), Michelle Ponti MD (Chair), Alyson Shaw MD, Richard Stanwick MD, Jackie Van Lankveld (Manager, Speech Services, Niagara Children’s Centre), Elizabeth (Lisette) Yorke MD


Disclaimer: The recommendations in this position statement do not indicate an exclusive course of treatment or procedure to be followed. Variations, taking into account individual circumstances, may be appropriate. Internet addresses are current at time of publication.

Last updated: Nov 17, 2023