We must protect our children from the risks of social media now


U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy speaks during a press conference with Presidential Press Secretary Jen Psakih at the White House in Washington, July 15, 2021.

tom brennerreuter

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in new recommendations Tuesday that widespread social media use among children and teens poses significant mental health risks and must be addressed immediately. I warned you there is.

A report released by the Surgeon General’s Office said such recommendations were “reserved because of a serious public health challenge that requires immediate national awareness and action.” The report is based on a “substantial examination of the available evidence” regarding the impact of social media.

This isn’t the first time Marcy has accused social media of contributing to a public health threat. In 2021, he issued an advisory on the threat of COVID-19 misinformation, calling on social media companies to make changes in favor of fact-based sources. He has also previously said that 13-year-olds are “too young” to use social media.

In his latest recommendations, Murthy acknowledged that social media can have both positive and negative effects on children. Social media is almost universally used among young people, with up to 95% of people between the ages of 13 and 17 reportedly using social media, according to the report. The report found that social media use by children and teens can result in both “increased emotional sensitivity” leading to lower life satisfaction and positive spaces for community, information and self-expression. says it has the potential. The sense of community that young social media users get online can be even more important for children from marginalized backgrounds, the report says.

“The majority of adolescents report that social media helps them feel accepted (58%), that they feel like they have someone to support them during difficult times (67%), and that their creativity (71%) report that they feel there are places where they show a more intimate side, and that it is more related to what is going on in their friends’ lives (80%),” the report said. .

Still, according to research cited by the Surgeon General’s Office, social media use is potentially harmful, and can cause or exacerbate eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression.

“At this time, there is not yet enough evidence to determine whether social media is safe enough for children and adolescents,” the report said. “We recognize a growing body of research on potential harms, increasing our collective understanding of the risks associated with social media use, minimizing harms, and helping children and adolescents Action must be taken urgently to create a safe and healthy digital environment that protects mental health and well-being – at a critical stage of development.”

Areas where the Surgeon General’s Office has called for further research include distinguishing between the health impacts of in-person and digital social interactions, what content causes the most harm to young users, What are the factors that can protect children from the harmful effects of social interaction? media use.

Despite the need for more research, the Surgeon General warns that action cannot wait.

“Our children and adolescents cannot afford to wait years to see the full impact of social media. Their childhood and development are happening now,” the report said. . “As we experience a national youth mental health crisis, now is the time to take swift and decisive action to protect children and adolescents from the danger of harm.”

The warning is consistent with calls from parents, Congress, and the president to pass legislation to strengthen protections for children online. Yet it can be difficult to find ways to do so without unintentionally causing new harm to self-expression and privacy.

The Surgeon General has several recommendations for policy makers, tech companies, parents and caregivers, young social media users and researchers. They include:

For policy makers:

  • Create “age-appropriate health and safety standards”.
  • We need more data privacy protections for children.
  • Fund future research.
  • Support digital and media literacy education in schools.
  • Require tech companies to share health-related data.

For technology companies:

  • Conduct independent evaluations of the impact of our products on children.
  • Share your findings and underlying data with researchers.
  • Have a timely system in place to address complaints and requests from youth users, their families, and educators.
  • We prioritize health and safety in product design.

For Parents and Caregivers:

  • Set expectations for how the technology should be used.
  • Create a “technology-free zone,” such as at dinner or before bed.
  • Develop a sharing habit on social media with other parents.

For children and teens:

  • If you or a friend is being harmed by social media, find expert information at the National Center for Social Media and Adolescent Mental Health, or if you or a friend is in danger, call the Suicide Hotline at 988. Ask for help, for example by calling or texting .
  • Be careful not to share too much information on social media
  • Report online harassment or abuse.

For researchers:

  • Determine best practices for healthy social media use.
  • Create standardized definitions and measurements to discuss social media and mental health outcomes.
  • To determine the role of developmental stages in the progression of poor mental health resulting from social media use.

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