What you need to know about the Surgeon General’s recommendations on social media for kids


Excessive use of social media in childhood may increase the risk of poor mental health, U.S. Surgeon General Vivec H. Murthy said in a recommendation released Tuesday. .

In his 25-page recommendation, Murthy said there was not enough evidence to determine whether social media was “safe enough” for children and adolescents. This comes amid an ongoing mental health crisis for teens and children as rates of anxiety and depression among adolescents continue to soar.

“It’s no longer possible to ignore the potential contribution of social media to the pain that millions of children and families are experiencing,” Murthy wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post.

According to the report, up to 95% of teens use social media in some way, with a third saying they use it “almost all the time.” And those who spend more than three hours a day on these platforms face “double the risk of experiencing poor mental health, including symptoms of depression and anxiety.”

‘Inappropriate content’ disturbs sleep

The report details the potential benefits of online communities, such as allowing some teens to connect with others with similar identities and interests.While acknowledging that time spent on social media can have different effects on children and adolescents, it emphasizes: I have the following concerns:

  • Children are commonly exposed to “extreme and inappropriate content” on social media.
  • Social media can perpetuate feelings of body dissatisfaction, especially among adolescent girls.
  • These sites can become hotbeds for predatory behavior. Nearly 6 in 10 girls say they have been contacted “in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable” from strangers online.
  • Social media may be overstimulating the brain to the point of addiction.
  • Excessive use of social media is associated with sleep disturbances and decreased alertness.

Murthy wants tech companies to give other companies a “baseline” to assess potential harm to children and consider how these platforms are impacting adolescents. I asked him to do a more effective job in that regard.

The recommendation also calls on elected officials to protect children from accessing “harmful content” such as videos, photos and texts that refer to violence, substance abuse and sexual exploitation. It also suggests enforcing an age limit, which experts are encouraging.

Gene Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author of the books iGen and Generations, which explores how smartphones have impacted America’s youngest generation, said, “The most important thing you can do is The thing is to enforce a minimum age.” .

“Let’s enforce the existing 13-year-old minimum,” Twenge said, referring to the minimum age commonly used on US social media platforms. “Even better would be to raise the minimum age to 16. I think that would make the most difference.”

In an op-ed for the Post, Mercy wrote that the couple would not let their children use social media in middle school. But they plan to re-evaluate rules in high schools “based on the maturity and development of children and whether effective safety standards are in place to protect adolescents.”

“Common sense” recommendations

Jacqueline Neshi, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University who has studied how social media affects teens, said the report offered some “common sense” recommendations. It said it expects the technology companies responsible for these platforms to act.

“There’s a fairly broad consensus that something needs to be done with social media,” Neshi said. “These kinds of criteria need to be considered in order to really make a difference.”

Neshi said the report “may have somewhat overstated” some of the evidence against social media, saying that even though the findings only show a correlation, social media’s It said it could suggest that its use causes adverse effects, such as worsening mental health.

“We cannot say that social media predicts negative mental health outcomes from these studies,” Neshi said. “Most of the research out there is actually correlated.”

One reason researchers sometimes fail to establish causation is the difficulty of accessing relevant data on these platforms, Neshi said.

“The only way to know more about its impact is to get the data and make it available for study,” said Neshi. “Currently, we researchers rely on many self-report measures.”

The Recommendation seeks to address this issue with sections dedicated to key questions that remain unanswered and specific requests for technology companies to provide access to researchers.

“I would love to see our tech companies do more and do more to protect our children,” Murthy said in an interview with The Washington Post. “Share data transparently and openly.”

“My parents are really struggling,” Murthy said. “This is an impossible task that we have placed on our parents’ shoulders.”

Murthy and other experts offered the following advice for parents and teens about using screen time and social media sparingly.

  • Consider establishing a “technology free” zone. Set boundaries on where and when family members can use their smartphones to protect sleep, face-to-face interactions and physical activity. “This encourages us to think about the moments when technology becomes part of the equation and the moments when we want technology out of the equation,” said Emily Weinstein, a researcher and principal investigator at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. rice field. Co-author of Behind Their Screens. “When your phone is within reach, it’s very difficult not to look at the screen or check notifications.”
  • Model the behavior you want to see. “Children and teens are very sensitive to hypocrisy,” Weinstein said. Her parents need to have the kind of relationship they want their kids to have with smartphones, she said.
  • Please delay the age of your child first using these platforms. “Easier said than done,” Mercy said. “It’s hard to do.” The rule may be easier to enact for like-minded parents who do the same for their children, he said.
  • Tell them to turn off their smartphones before going to bed. Smartphones and tablets are keeping children awake at night and robbing them of critical eye-close time, experts say. “Too many young people are sleep deprived,” Murthy says. “One in three girlfriends in adolescents stays up in front of a screen past midnight on weekdays.”

Finding solutions through regulation and research to address the impact of social media use on children “It’s really, really important,” Mercy said. “I fear that one year, five years, 10 years from now, we will look back and see how this technology has had a huge impact on the mental health and well-being of young people.”

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