Surgeon General Warns Of The Harmful Mental Health Effects Social Media Can Have On Kids

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an advisory that warned about the risk of social media on the mental health of children and adolescents. The 25-page advisory drew from more than 100 research studies that showed that although social media can have a beneficial impact on young people's lives, the ubiquity of social media also poses risks of depression and anxiety. In other words, the more time a child or adolescent spends on social media, the higher the risk of mental health problems.

Social media content and excessive use are both driving the surgeon general's concern. Adolescents are subjected to content that's related to hate and self-harm, and adolescent girls face body image issues and disordered eating as a result of social media content. Despite this, 1/3 of adolescent girls say they're addicted to social media, and half of teenagers report they would find it hard to give it up. The advisory also points out research that shows that one-third of adolescents use social media after midnight, which can result in problems with sleep. Murthy says that there are barriers to knowing the full impact of social media's effects, because many tech companies aren't being transparent about their data.

What the surgeon general suggests

Murthy offers a multifaceted approach to making social media safer for children and adolescents. Families can agree to have tech-free breaks to improve sleep and family gatherings. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to have conversations about how to use social media more responsibly while reporting and blocking harmful or offensive content. The advisory also advises tech companies to prioritize children's safety while sharing data with researchers to better understand social media's full impact.

The surgeon general also urges policymakers to fund research and digital literacy programs. Policymakers could also strengthen safety standards so that social media can become a safer environment for children. Utah became the first state to require parents to authorize social media accounts for people under 18 and create a social media curfew from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. (via Axios). Although Montana recently passed a law that would ban app stores from offering TikTok starting January 2024, TikTok responded with a lawsuit, citing free speech rights (via BBC).