Social Media Is Causing Teen Mental Health Crisis, Surgeon General Warns

Surgeon General Vivek Morsi, a longtime advocate for mental health awareness, has warned that social media use is a leading cause of depression, anxiety and other problems among teens in the country. issued.

A report released on Tuesday draws attention to growing concerns about the impact of social media use on the mental health of children and adolescents. The recommendation calls on policy makers and companies developing social media platforms to share with parents the burden of managing children’s and adolescents’ social media use.

Calling youth mental health “the defining public health issue of our time,” Murthy said, “We are committed to ensuring strong safety standards to protect adolescents and teens from exposure to and overuse of harmful content.” He appealed to policy makers to cooperate.

According to the report, up to 95% of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 say they use social media platforms. Nearly a third say they scroll or post on social media “almost all the time.”

“At the moment, there is not enough evidence to confidently say that social media is safe enough for children. We must act now to ensure that children are protected,” Murthy said in an interview. said.

The report summarizes studies linking social media use and worsening mental health conditions in adolescents, including that teens who spent more than three hours a day on social media had “symptoms, including face twice the risk of experiencing worsening mental health conditions,” included a 2019 study. about depression and anxiety. ”

As of last year, surveyed 8th and 10th grade students said they were spending more time on these platforms each day (3 hours and 30 minutes on average).

Jim Steyer, founder of Common Sense Media, an organization that advocates for laws and policies to make the media more child-friendly, said the recommendations were “perfectly spot on” and “will help the country.” It should be a clear call to all parents and all policy makers of the world.” , we believe we need to devote our focus and resources to this effort. ”

According to the Pew Research Center, the most popular social media platforms among teens are TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram.

The Surgeon General’s warning on social media comes after rates of teen depression, sadness and hopelessness have surged over the past decade, especially among girls.

Gene Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author of Generations: The Real Differences between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen, said that teenage depression began to rise around 2012. , which coincided with the spread of smartphones.” X, Boomer, Silent, and what they mean for America’s future. ”

It was also around this time that “likes” on posts became commonplace and algorithms began to become more sophisticated to keep people on social media longer. said Mr.

The Surgeon General’s report also blamed social media for perpetuating eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorders and low self-esteem. Some evidence suggests a possible link between excessive social media use and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in teens.

Twenge said social media can affect mental health in many ways. Both sleep and face-to-face social interaction are good for mental health, she said, but if kids go online when they should be in bed or spending time with friends, that’s a problem. To tell.

Feeling left out and comparing yourself to others can also have negative effects.

“On an intellectual level we know that we could have taken 200 selfies to get the right picture, but on an emotional level it’s not really processed,” Twenge says. says.

What can you do?

The Surgeon General’s report outlines recommendations for both tech companies and lawmakers.

“Policy makers need to help strengthen and ensure strong safety standards to protect children from exposure to harmful content and also from overuse,” Murthy said. . This includes mandatory minimum ages.

Companies are encouraged to create better tools to protect adolescents and loosen features that encourage children to stay online longer.

Today, parents are at the forefront of helping teens navigate the online world. The report encourages caregivers to create “technology-free” zones in their homes and discuss with their children how using social media makes them feel.

“It’s really unfair to put the blame solely on parents. Why shouldn’t the industry take responsibility for creating platforms and making features more addictive?” said Steyer of Common Sense Media. says this. “We need a large-scale national debate.”

At what age should children use social media?

Most technology companies require users to be at least 13 years old. However, nearly 40% of children between the ages of 8 and 12 use social media, the report said.

Murthy believes even 13 is too young to use social media, but said he doesn’t have enough data to suggest what age is appropriate.

Twenge suggested that the minimum age should be set at 16.

“Let’s put regulations in place now to help children who are not yet on social media,” said Twenge. “Maybe we can save the next generation.”

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