The country’s top health official issued an emergency public warning on Tuesday about the dangers of social media for young people, calling for full understanding of the possible “harm to the mental health and well-being of children and young people.”
IN 19-page tutorialSurgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, noted that the impact of social media on teenage mental health is not fully understood and that social media can be beneficial for some users. Nevertheless, he wrote: “There are many indicators that social media may also carry a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and young people.”
The report provides practical recommendations to help families guide their children’s use of social media. He recommended that families keep meal times and in-person gatherings free of devices to help build social bonds and promote conversation. It has been suggested to create a “family media plan” to set expectations for social media use, including content boundaries and keeping personal information private.
Dr. Murthy also urged tech companies to enforce minimum age restrictions and create default settings for children with high standards of security and privacy. He also called on the government to create age-appropriate occupational health and safety standards for technology platforms.
Teenagers “are not just smaller adults,” Dr Murthy said in an interview on Monday. “They’re in a different phase of development and they’re in a critical phase of brain development.”
Effectively bringing long-standing concerns about social media into national conversation, the report comes as state and federal lawmakers, many of whom grew up in a time when social media was almost non-existent or non-existent, are grappling with how to determine limits on its use.
Montana’s governor recently signed a bill banning TikTok from operating in the state, prompting the Chinese app to file a lawsuit, with young TikTok users lamenting what it called a “kick in the face.” In March, Utah became the first state to ban social networking sites from allowing users under the age of 18 to have accounts without the express consent of a parent or guardian. This law could dramatically restrict young people’s access to apps like Instagram and Facebook.
Survey results from Research Pew found that as many as 95 percent of teens use at least one social media platform, and more than a third say they use it “almost constantly.” With increased use of social media, self-reports and clinical diagnoses among adolescents with anxiety and depression, as well as emergency room visits for self-harm and suicidal thoughts, have increased.
The report may encourage further research to understand whether these two trends are related. It joins the growing number of calls to action regarding teens and social media. Earlier this month, the American Psychological Association issued its first-ever guidelines for social media, advising parents to carefully monitor their teens’ use of it and tech companies to reconsider features such as endless scrolling and a “Like” button.
In recent years, a number of studies have emerged looking at the potential link between social media use and soaring stress levels among teens. But the results were consistent only in their nuance and complexity.
Some Analysis published last yearanalyzing research conducted between 2019 and 2021 on social media use and mental health, it was found that “the majority of reviews interpreted the associations between social media use and mental health as ‘weak’ or ‘inconsistent’, while a few categorized the same associations as “significant” and “damaging”.
Clearly, the data shows that social media can have both positive and negative effects on young people’s well-being, and heavy use of social media – and screen time in general – seems to be displacing activities such as sleep and exercise that are considered necessary for brain development.
On the positive side, social media can help many young people by giving them a forum to connect with others, find a community and express themselves.
At the same time, as noted by the Surgeon General’s advisor, social media platforms are full of “extreme, inappropriate and harmful content”, including content that “can normalize” self-harm, eating disorders and other self-destructive behaviors. Cyberbullying is rampant.
Moreover, social media space can be tight, especially for young people, the guide adds: “During early adolescence, when identity and self-esteem are forming, brain development is particularly vulnerable to social pressure, peer opinions and peer comparisons “.
The advisory notes that tech companies have a vested interest in keeping users online and that they employ tactics that encourage people to engage in addiction-like behavior.
Our children have become unwitting participants in a decades-long experiment.
Facebook, Instagram and TikTok did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the advice on Tuesday afternoon.
Research increasingly shows that some young people are more vulnerable than others to abuse and content.
In the advisory, Dr. Murthy expressed an “urgent need” for clarity on several research fronts. These include the types of social media content that cause harm; whether specific neurological pathways, such as those related to reward and addiction, are affected; and what strategies can be used to protect the mental health and well-being of children and young people.
The guide did not provide guidance on what healthy use of social media might look like, nor did it condemn the use of social media by all young people. Rather, it said, “We don’t yet have enough evidence to determine whether social media is safe enough for children and young people.”
The position of Surgeon General has no real power other than its potential as a bully’s pulpit, and Dr. Murthy’s advice has no legal or political force. According to the report, this was intended to draw American attention to an “urgent public health issue” and to make recommendations on how to address it.
It has been pointed out that similar reports from previous Surgeons General helped change the national discussion of smoking in the 1960s HIV and AIDS in the 1980s and declared in the early 2000s that obesity has become nationwide epidemic. Dr. Murthy declared gun violence has become an epidemic and condemned what he called “a public health crisis of loneliness, isolation and lack of connectivity in our country.”
In an interview on Monday, Dr. Murthy admitted that the lack of clarity surrounding social media has been a heavy burden on users and families.
“That’s a lot for parents, given the new technology that is evolving rapidly and that is fundamentally changing the way children see themselves,” said Dr Murthy. “So we need to do what we do in other areas where we have product safety issues, which is to set safety standards that parents can rely on that are actually enforced.”
Remy Tumin contributed to the report.