Surgeon General Warns Social Media Can Harm Children, Adolescents

The country’s top health authority issued a rare public warning on Tuesday about the risks of social media to young people, urging them to fully understand the potential “harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents”.

In a 19-page recommendation, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said the impact of social media on the mental health of adolescents is not fully understood and that social media is beneficial for some users. pointed out that it is possible. Nonetheless, he writes, “there are ample indications that social media can seriously harm the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.”

This report contains practical recommendations to help families guide their children’s use of social media. The report recommended that families avoid using devices at mealtimes and in-person gatherings to build social bonds and encourage conversation. He suggested creating a “family media plan” to set expectations for social media usage, including content boundaries and maintaining privacy of personal information.

Dr Murthy also called on tech companies to enforce minimum age limits and create default settings for children with high safety and privacy standards. And he called on the government to develop age-appropriate health and safety standards for tech platforms.

Dr. Murthy said in an interview Monday that adolescents are “more than just little adults.” “They are at different stages of development and at critical stages in brain development.”

The report effectively elevates long-simmering concerns about social media to the national level, as many state and federal lawmakers said at a time when social media was largely non-existent or non-existent. It was announced while I was worried about how to solve it. Place restrictions on its use.

The governor of Montana recently signed a bill banning TikTok from operating in the state, prompting lawsuits from the Chinese-owned app and young TikTok users lamenting the so-called “kick in the face.” In March, Utah became the first state to ban social media services from having accounts for users under the age of 18 without explicit parental or guardian consent. The law could severely limit young people’s access to apps such as Instagram and Facebook.

Up to 95 percent of teens report using at least one social media platform, and more than a third use social media “almost constantly,” according to Pew Research findings replied. As the use of social media increases, self-reported and clinical diagnoses of anxiety and depression among young people are increasing, and more people are attending emergency departments due to self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

This report may help facilitate further research to understand whether these two trends are related. This joins a growing call for action regarding youth and social media. Earlier this month, the American Psychological Association released its first-ever guidance on social media, urging parents to closely monitor teens’ usage and tech companies to rethink features like infinite scroll and the “Like” button. recommended to do.

In recent years, a large body of research has been published on a potential link between social media use and a surge in distress rates among adolescents. But the results are consistent only in nuance and complexity.

An analysis published last year examined 2019-2021 research on social media use and mental health and found that “most reviews found the association between social media use and mental health to be ‘weak’ or ‘consistent’. ‘There is no’, but a few reviews do the same.” Relevance is considered both “substantial” and “harmful.” ”

The data most clearly show that social media can have both positive and negative effects on youth well-being, with heavy use of social media, and screen time generally indicates that it seems to replace activity. It is believed to be essential for brain development.

On the positive side, social media can help many young people by providing a forum to connect with others, find community, and express themselves.

At the same time, social media platforms are flooded with “extreme, inappropriate and harmful content”, including content that “may normalize” self-harm, eating disorders and other self-destructive behaviors. The Surgeon General’s recommendation pointed out. Cyberbullying is rampant.

Furthermore, the social media space can be dangerous, especially for young people, the recommendation added, adding, “In early adolescence, when identities and self-esteem are being formed, brain development is particularly affected by social pressure, peer opinions, and interaction with peers.” They are susceptible to comparison,” he added.

The advisory noted that tech companies have a vested interest in keeping users online and use tactics to lure people into addiction-like behavior. “Our children have become unwitting participants in decades of experimentation,” the recommendation states.

A spokeswoman for Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook, said the recommendations included recommendations that were “reasonable and largely already implemented by Meta.” These measures include automatically depriving accounts of users under the age of 16 when they join Instagram and restricting users’ accounts. The types of content teens can see on the app.

TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.

This recommendation did not provide guidance on what healthy use of social media looks like, nor did it condemn social media use by all young people. Rather, it concluded, “There is not yet enough evidence to determine whether social media is safe enough for children and adolescents.”

The Surgeon General’s position lacks practical power beyond its potential as a bully’s pulpit, and Dr. Mercy’s recommendations are beyond the reach of law and policy. According to his report, the purpose was to draw the attention of the American public to an “urgent public health problem” and to make recommendations on how it should be addressed.

Similar reports by successive Surgeon Generals helped shift the national debate on smoking in the 1960s, drew attention to HIV and AIDS in the 1980s, and helped obesity become a national epidemic in the early 2000s. Declared. Dr. Mercy declared gun violence an epidemic, denouncing what he called “a public health crisis due to loneliness, isolation and lack of connection in our country.”

In an interview Monday, Dr Murthy acknowledged that the lack of clarity around social media is a huge burden for users and families.

“Embracing new technologies that are rapidly evolving and fundamentally changing a child’s self-perception places a lot of demands on parents,” Dr Murthy said. “So we have to do what we do in other areas where product safety is an issue. is to do.”

Remy Tumin Contributed to the report.

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