September 15, 2022

UW expert to co-lead new social media and youth mental health center

Madison, Wis. – A UW Health Kids adolescent health physician and researcher was recently tapped to help lead a new national center on youth and social media.

This week the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) launched a new National Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health. Dr. Megan Moreno, adolescent health expert, UW Health Kids, and professor of pediatrics, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, will serve as the co-medical director of the center, focusing her efforts on adolescent health. Dr. Jenny Radesky, a pediatrician with the University of Michigan Health, whose work focuses on younger children, is the other co-medical director.

The center will serve as a centralized source for evidence-based education and technical assistance to support the mental health of children and adolescents as they navigate social media, according to Moreno.

“As an adolescent medicine physician and researcher, I’ve focused my research career on the intersection of adolescent health and digital media,” Moreno said. “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."

Moreno also is the principal investigator of the Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team (SMAHRT) at UW Health Kids, which focuses on the intersection of technology and adolescent health. The team has contributed the largest body of evidence in the area of adolescent health and social media to date, according to Moreno.

“Growing evidence has established both risks and benefits to social media use,” Moreno said. “Imbalances in these risks and benefits can harm mental health, exacerbate existing health disparities and compound systemic inequities for youth.”

The center has three goals:

  • First, improve pediatric mental well-being by reducing the risks and leveraging the benefits of social media.

  • Second, build the capacity of individuals who work with youth to mitigate social media’s impact on mental well-being and promote healthy social media use.

  • Third, synthesize and promote the evidence base and best practices for healthy social media use via communication, guidance, and other resources, according to Moreno.

The center will disseminate evidence on 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, Moreno said.

The center is made possible because of a recent $10 million, five-year grant from the Department of Health and Human Services, through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The AAP’s official name for the center is Center of Excellence: Creating a Healthy Digital Ecosystem for Children and Youth.