The US Surgeon General is warning that there is not enough evidence to show that social media is safe for children and teenagers – and is calling on tech companies, parents and carers to take “urgent action now to protect children” is invoking.
With young people’s use of social media “near universal” but its true impact on mental health not fully understood, Dr Vivek Murthy calls on tech companies to share data and increase transparency with researchers and the public and improve their design. While doing so, we are asking you to prioritize the health and safety of users. products.
“I agree that technology companies have taken steps to make their platforms healthy and secure, but it is not enough,” Murthy told The Associated Press in an interview. “You can just look at age requirements, where platforms have said 13 is the age at which people can start using their platforms. Yet 40% of eight- to 12-year-olds are on social media. If You’re actually implementing your policies so how does that happen?”
To comply with federal regulation, social media companies already prohibit children under the age of 13 from signing up on their platforms — but kids can easily do so, both with and without their parents’ consent. Shown to avoid the ban.
Other measures taken by social platforms to address concerns about children’s mental health are also easily sidelined. For example, TikTok recently introduced a default 60-minute time limit for users under the age of 18.
It is not that companies are unaware of the harm caused by their platforms. For example, Meta studied the effects of Instagram on the mental health of teens years ago and found that peer pressure generated by the visually focused app led to mental health and body image problems, and in some cases, eating disorders. and suicidal thoughts in adolescents — especially girls. An internal study cited 13.5% of teen girls saying Instagram made suicidal thoughts worse and 17% of teen girls saying it made eating disorders worse.
This research was revealed in 2021 by whistleblower Frances Hogan. Meta tried to minimize the harmful effects of its platform on teenagers at the time, but paused its work on a children’s version of Instagram, which the company says is primarily aimed at children aged 10 to 12. Is.
“The bottom line is that we don’t have enough evidence to conclude that social media is really safe enough for our kids. And it’s really important for parents to know,” said Murthy, who Traveling across the country to talk to parents and youth about the youth mental health crisis. “The most common question I get from parents is whether social media is safe for their kids.”
Policymakers need to address the harms of social media in the same way they regulate car seats, baby formula, medicine and other products used by children, Murthy said in a report published Tuesday. Parents – and kids – just can’t do it all.
“We’re asking parents to manage a rapidly evolving technology that is fundamentally changing how their children think about themselves, how they form friendships, how they perceive the world.” How to experience – and technology, by the way, that previous generations never had to manage,” Murthy said. “And we’re putting all of that on the parents’ shoulders, which isn’t fair at all.”
While Murthy is calling for more research, he says there is now enough evidence that social media may be at “profound risk of harm” to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.
An important factor is the development of the children’s brain. Adults can suffer from the harmful effects of social media. But children and adolescents “are at a fundamentally different stage of brain development, where their brains, their social relationships, their self-esteem and identity pathways are all subject to development,” Murthy said. “And in this case, they are even more prone to being influenced by social cues, social pressure and social comparison – and those three things are heavily present on social media.”
In fact, frequent social media use may be associated with “specific changes” in the developing brain, and increased sensitivity to social rewards and punishments, according to a study cited in the Surgeon General’s report.
How often and how often they use social media, as well as the excessive, inappropriate and harmful content they view, can have a profound effect on the mental health of children and adolescents.
And research shows they’re using plenty of it. al. According to the Pew Research Center, 95% of youth ages 13 to 17 report using social media platforms, with more than a third saying they use social media “almost constantly.”
A systematic review of 42 studies found “consistent associations between social media use and poor sleep quality, short sleep duration, sleep difficulties, and depression in youth”. On a typical weekday, nearly one in three teens report using screen media at midnight or later.
What they see on social media also matters. From the bombardment of unrealistic body images to a culture of “over-comparison” to bullying, hate and abuse, Murthy said she is concerned that its impact on young people’s mental health is reflected in “disturbing mental health statistics”. is visible in us what we are seeing in ourselves.” countries, which are telling us that depression, anxiety, suicide, loneliness are all on the rise.”
Murthy’s report does not ask youth to stop using social media completely. There are benefits too. This is where teens can find community and a place for self-expression. LGBTQ+ youth, in particular, have been shown to benefit from social media through connecting with peers, developing an identity, and receiving social support.
“It may not be possible or beneficial for every family to prevent their child from using social media,” Murthy said. “But drawing boundaries around the use of social media in your child’s life so that there are times and places that are safe, that are technology-free, that can be really helpful.”
Murthy’s own children are 5 and 6, but like many parents, she is already thinking about their future on social media.
“We plan to delay social media use for our kids until after middle school,” he said. “And you know, it’s not going to be easy. But we’re hoping to find other parents and families with whom we can partner to make it a little bit easier, because we know there’s strength in numbers.” It happens and sometimes it is difficult to change on your own.