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New Jersey to study impact of social media on youth

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(The Center Square) — New Jersey is embarking on a yearlong study looking at the impact of social media on young people amid calls for tougher regulations and more research on minors’ use of internet platforms.

A bill signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy calls for creating a 19-member state commission to study social media issues and develop recommendations, including proposed social media usage standards and strategies to mitigate adverse effects on student health and academic performance.

Murphy said the initiative will gauge how social media use “is affecting the physical and mental health, safety, and academic performance of students to help mitigate any negative repercussions and protect the well-being of New Jersey’s youth.”

“Social media use is undoubtedly a significant part of many young people’s lives these days, which is why it is so critical to determine the full scope of its impact on students,” he said.

The study comes amid rising concerns about the prevalence of social media use among children, with state and federal government officials struggling to set guidelines.

“The impact of social media on the academic, physical and emotional health of youth has been a widespread concern throughout a vast array of urban/rural, socioeconomic and ethnic communities,” said Dr. Kristine Esposito of the New Jersey Association of School Psychologists.

In May, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a report warning that social media might be unsafe for children and teens. Murthy cited research showing online activity exposes young children and teens to cyberbullying and called on tech companies, parents and caregivers to take “immediate action” to protect kids.

“Excessive and problematic social media use, such as compulsive or uncontrollable use, has been linked to sleep problems, attention problems, and feelings of exclusion among adolescents,” Murthy wrote.

The report noted that children and teens are “especially vulnerable” to the impact of social media because they are undergoing a “highly sensitive period of brain development.”

New Jersey officials said the study would focus on the effects social media use has on academic performance and emotional and physical health, with the long-term goal of decreasing depression, anxiety, bullying and other disruptive behaviors.

“Social media can be a great way to connect with friends and family, but it can also be a source of stress and anxiety,” state Sen. Richard Codey, D-Essex/Morris, a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. “This commission will help us understand the risks and benefits of social media so that we can help our kids use it safely.”

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