U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called for policymakers to crack down on social media in a Tuesday advisory that warned of the potential dangers of social media to children’s mental health.
Social media is used by nearly all American adolescents despite concerns about its impact on children’s brain development and mental health, according to the advisory. Murthy called for policymakers to pursue a “safety first” approach to social media regulation in line with previous federal regulations on airbags and seatbelts.
“We must provide children and their families with the information and tools to navigate the changing digital environment, but this burden to support our children must be further shared,” the advisory read. “There is a role for local, state, and federal policy to implement protections for our children and adolescents. The U.S. has a strong history of taking action in such circumstances.” (RELATED: Social Media Can Influence Young Girls To Become Transgender. Here’s How)
Murthy recommended measures to prohibit children from accessing age-inappropriate content, as well as standards to prevent social media companies from targeting children with their personal information.
“We must acknowledge the growing body of research about potential harms, increase our collective understanding of the risks associated with social media use, and urgently take action to create safe and healthy digital environments that minimize harm and safeguard children’s and adolescents’ mental health and well-being during critical stages of development,” the advisory read.
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Among youth aged 13-17, about 95% use social media, and more than a third report using it “almost constantly, according to the advisory. About 40% of children 8-12 use social media despite the common minimum age of 13 for most platforms. Social media can impact adolescents’ impulse control, social behavior and long term well-being, according to numerous studies cited in the advisory.
During adolescence, youth are particularly susceptible to peer influence and social pressure as they form their sense of identity; they’re also experiencing major fluctuations in well-being, and this is the period of life in which depression can emerge, according to the advisory. Social media use is linked to lowered life satisfaction when used by girls aged 11-13 and boys 14-15.
Children aged 12-15 who spent more than 3 hours per day on social media had double the risk of poor mental health outcomes including depression and anxiety, according to a study referenced in the advisory; 8th and 10th graders spend an average of 3.5 hours per day on social media.
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