Friday, April 12, 2024

Surgeon General: Why social media harms youth's mental health


heyOn May 23, US Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy issued a consultant A warning about the impact of social media on young people’s mental health.

“I issued this advisory because this is an urgent crisis,” Murthy told Time. “In an effort to maximize the benefits of social media on children and minimize the harms, we haven’t made enough progress. As a result, I worry about our children’s mental health and well-being.”

In conversation with TIME, Murthy discussed how parents, policy makers, researchers and technology companies can and should come together to make social media platforms safer for children. (This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

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TIME: Why do you think the influence of social media on youth is of such concern?

Since becoming Surgeon General, I have focused primarily on mental health and wellness, which I see as the defining public health crisis of our time.

And youth is a matter of concern. As I travel around the country talking to families about mental-health concerns, the No. 1 question I get from parents about social media is: “Is social media safe for my kids?” And many children raise similar concerns. In roundtables with middle-school students, high-school students, and college students, he often actively brings up the issue of social media.

Read more, How to start teaching your kids about social media

They told me three things consistently: 1. Social media often made them feel bad about themselves; 2. It made them feel bad about their friendship; and 3. that they can’t get out of it. As one student told me, “I feel great during the day, then take out my phone and get on social media and see all these people doing things without me, or achieving incredible things — with incredible bodies.” And living an incredible life – and suddenly I feel worse about myself. It’s a common theme.

The reason I issued the advisory is to answer the question that so many parents are asking me about social media.

What conclusions does your report make about social media and young people’s mental health?

After putting together the available data, which included going through publicly available research and looking at published data as well as consulting independent experts, our conclusion is, first, that there is not enough data to say that social media platforms are safe for children, and, second, there is growing evidence that social media use is associated with harm.

Do policy makers and technology companies have a responsibility to ensure that their platforms are safe for children?

I see this as 100% the responsibility of policy makers and technology companies. Any company that produces a product to be consumed by children has a fundamental responsibility to ensure that it is safe for children – that it helps them and does not harm them.

We do not ask parents to inspect the brakes of cars in which children will ride, or the ingredients in drugs used by children, or to make sure they are safe. The paint used in toys made for children is not asked to do a chemical analysis. , We set standards and enforce them—usually done by the government—to make sure manufacturers meet them.

That’s what’s missing here. We can’t let technology companies set our standards; We don’t do this in any other area where the well-being of children is at stake. But broadly this is what has been happening for the last 20 years.

What are some specific standards that policy makers can set for social media use among children?

We need to strengthen protections for children through safety standards, especially by protecting children from exposure to harmful content. Too many children are exposed to sexual and violent content as well as harassment and abuse online. It should not happen.

We can take a page out of the safety standards that apply to other products for children, and the standards around age should be included. While 13 is a commonly used age many platforms use to allow users to join, we must keep two things in mind. First, it’s horribly implemented, as 40% of eight- to 12-year-olds are on social media. second, 13 [years old] didn’t come from a health assessment that looked at what should be the appropriate age for children to be on social media. It came from COPPA [Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule], a law that restricted the age under which data could not be collected and shared. We need to understand at what age a child should start using these platforms.

Is there data to tell at what age children can safely start using social media?

That’s one more thing that standards set by policymakers can do: ensure that technology companies share relevant data from their platforms. I hear all the time from researchers who aren’t able to get full access to the data they need to fully understand the impact platforms are having on children. As a parent, I don’t want to feel like there is information that is being hidden from me about the effect my kids’ use can have on their mental health and well-being.

Read more, For teens, shielding each other from social media is a team effort

Should the standards also include restrictions on certain types of content for young users?

Effective standards will protect children from harmful content. And these standards not only need to be set but also need to be enforced. It is important for parents and children to be at the table to be informed about how these standards are shaped.

These platforms are designed to maximize the amount of time children are spending on them. One thing the new standards can do is reduce the features that lead to overuse, especially in young children.

I acknowledge that companies are trying to take steps to make the platform secure, but it’s not really enough. Timing matters. Children only have one childhood, and every day, every month, every year counts in a child’s life and development.

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