American teenagers resent social media, but they also resent efforts to take it away

NEW YORK – In Manhattan, one high school first-year student said he is trying to cut down on scrolling through TikTok, but questioned whether age restrictions on social media use could ever effectively stop tech-savvy teenagers.

Another senior from Queens said social media is essential for socialising, but lamented its transformation from an enjoyable activity into an obligation.

And outside a Brooklyn high school, one sophomore said he disdains the addictive power of social media and how it “manipulates our reward centres”. Still, he did not believe that legal restrictions were appropriate.

The teenagers’ reactions came hours after the United States Surgeon-General’s warning on Tuesday that social media can be a “profound risk” to the mental health and well-being of young people.

The warning added fresh fuel to a pitched national conversation on the effects of social media use on children and teenagers – and how policymakers, tech companies and families should intervene to limit it.

The Biden administration said on Tuesday it would create a task force to study the consequences and offer recommendations.

But in the nation’s largest school system, interviews with more than a dozen teenagers revealed a nuanced outlook on social media and the complex ways they are grappling with its ubiquitous presence. (Some of the students’ last names are being withheld because of their ages.)

“I resent it a lot, actually,” said Jack Brown, 15, a sophomore at Brooklyn Technical High School in Fort Greene.

“I could rant all day about why I don’t like social media and why I think it’s one of the great cancers of our generation.”

Still, he added: “I just don’t think the government should have that type of regulation over our own social lives.”

The Surgeon-General’s report came at a time of intense public pressure on social media companies to rein in the way that adolescents – and in particular younger children – use platforms.

Nearly 40 per cent of children aged eight to 12 use social media, some research shows, even though most platforms require older minimum ages.

In recent years, a growing number of states have entered the fray, passing laws to require a parent’s consent for social media use.

In Washington and California, some school districts have even sued top platforms, arguing their content harms young people. And as teachers contend with a youth mental health crisis exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, some experts have questioned whether social media is adding to the challenges.

Woven into their lives

But on Tuesday, many teenagers said social media would be nearly impossible to disentangle from their lives.

“Social media is just something that you have to have in our generation,” said Adelina Zaripova, 15, a sophomore from Staten Island who attends Brooklyn Tech.

She added that she finds the intense political focus on young people’s use of social media to be “kind of funny”.

“Like, I know my grandma spends her days sitting on her phone watching funny cat videos on TikTok,” said Adelina.

Many also wondered whether adults grasp the potential benefits.

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