Surgeon General Warns Social Media Can Have “Profound Risk Of Harm” To Kids’ Mental Health
“We are in the middle of a national youth mental health crisis, and I am concerned that social media is an important driver of that crisis — one that we must urgently address.”
Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an important advisory regarding social media and its effect on the mental health of young people. The 25-page document warns of a “profound risk of harm” social media has on kids across the country, a factor that Dr. Murthy believes has contributed to “a national youth mental health crisis.”
Dr. Murthy’s advisory released on Tuesday notes that, while social media certainly does offer some benefits, the risk of harm to the mental health of children and teens is serious. Especially since social media use is so prevalent, with 95% of adolescents between the age of 13 to 17 reporting that they engage on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, the advisory “cannot conclude social media is sufficiently safe for children and adolescents.”
“The most common question parents ask me is, ‘is social media safe for my kids’. The answer is that we don’t have enough evidence to say it’s safe, and in fact, there is growing evidence that social media use is associated with harm to young people’s mental health,” Dr. Murthy said. “Children are exposed to harmful content on social media, ranging from violent and sexual content, to bullying and harassment. And for too many children, social media use is compromising their sleep and valuable in-person time with family and friends. We are in the middle of a national youth mental health crisis, and I am concerned that social media is an important driver of that crisis — one that we must urgently address.”
Dr. Murthy said he hopes to address the crisis by urging policymakers to strengthen online safety standards, give parents and caregivers tools to implement tech-free zones and teach children about responsible online behavior, and encourage researchers to prioritize mental health research to help establish standards for supporting youth mental health.
This mental health advisory is part of a broader effort by the Biden administration for the government to address mental health concerns affecting the entire country. Dr. Murthy’s advisory recommends that more research be conducted to better understand the full impact social media has on teenagers. The Surgeon General also wants to see more accountability for social media platforms when it comes to age recommendations, as he believes that 13 is “too early” for teenagers to be using them. “These rules around age are inconsistently implemented,” he told CNN in January. “We have some of the best designers and product developers in the world who have designed these products to make sure people are maximizing the amount of time they’re spend on these platforms.”
While many parents and caregivers can feel overwhelmed trying to deal with their kids’ desire to be on social media, Dr. Murthy has said that the “burden” shouldn’t only fall on parents. “For too long, we have placed the entire burden of managing social media on the shoulders of parents and kids, despite the fact that these platforms are designed by some of the most talented engineers and designers in the world to maximize the amount of time that our kids spend on them,” he told CNN this week. “So that is not a fair fight. It’s time for us to have the backs of parents and kids.”