Funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will allow AAP to create a healthier digital ecosystem for children and youth
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) was recently awarded $10 million ($2 million/year, renewable up to five years) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).The funding will enable AAP to establish a National Center of Excellence on Social Media and Mental Wellness, which the AAP has named Center of Excellence: Creating a Healthy Digital Ecosystem for Children and Youth.
The center will serve as a centralized, trusted source for evidence-based education and technical assistance to support the mental health of children and adolescents as they navigate social media.
“We are thrilled to have been selected to lead and sustain vital work in an emerging field whose relevance has grown, especially over the past few years,” said AAP CEO Mark Del Monte, JD. “With our deep expertise in both mental health and in digital technology, and with the growing crisis in child and adolescent mental health continuing to be an area of organizational focus, there could not be a more important time for AAP to help confront these challenges and use our voice to make needed change for children and adolescents.”
AAP brings a unique developmental perspective to this work: Social media engagement starts in early childhood and continues through adolescence, where algorithms and marketing-driven incentives shape the content youth consume and share, impacting their online experience and mental health.
Accordingly, the center will be led by Medical Directors Megan Moreno, MD, MSEd, MPH, FAAP, whose work focuses on adolescents, and Jenny Radesky, MD, FAAP, whose work focuses on younger children. Dr. Radesky and Dr. Moreno were co-authors of the Academy’s current policy statements on media use by children and adolescents.
“As an adolescent medicine physician and researcher, I’ve focused my research career on the intersection of adolescent health and digital media,” said Dr. Moreno. “I am passionate about leveraging research findings for real-life impact for teens and their families, so I am excited to be part of this incredible team to provide families with evidence-based tools to navigate digital media.”
Dr. Moreno is Principal Investigator of the Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team (SMAHRT); her research focuses on the intersection of technology and adolescent health. SMAHRT has contributed the largest body of evidence in the area of adolescent health and social media to date.
Dr. Radesky is incoming chair of the AAP Council on Communications and Media (COCM) and brings more than a decade of experience as a practicing pediatrician and academic researcher with expertise in child development and behavior, parenting, and media use in younger children.
“Healthy relationships with technology start in early childhood. I am grateful for this opportunity to provide resources that help families choose the digital experiences that are worth their children’s time and attention, raise kids who are critical thinkers about technology, and build social-emotional skills that will transcend online and offline spaces,” Dr. Radesky said.
Growing evidence has established both risks and benefits to social media use. Imbalances in these risks and benefits can harm mental health, exacerbate existing health disparities, and compound systemic inequities for youth.
The center’s goals are to:
In addition to the medical directors, the center will be guided by a cross-sectoral Technical Expert Panel comprising educators, clinicians, youth, parent and community representatives, researchers, and industry representatives, and a diverse Youth Advisory Panel whose members will partner in the creation of content and activities.
The center will disseminate evidence around the risks and benefits of social media use and expand and translate the growing field of research around actionable solutions to protect youth mental health online, including family media plans, privacy protections, open communication with trusted adults, and mental health supports.
“Pediatricians have been alarmed for some time by the growing mental health crisis impacting children and adolescents, and we have much to understand about the role of social media in children’s healthy development,” said AAP President Moira Szilagyi, MD, PhD, FAAP. “This work will allow AAP to do what we do best: convene diverse experts, steep ourselves in the research, and work relentlessly, with children and adolescents at the center, until we can create a healthy digital ecosystem that supports and prioritizes their needs.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org and follow us on Twitter @AmerAcadPeds