The Surgeon General warns that social media can be harmful to children and adolescents (2023)


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The report of Dr. Vivek Murthy called it a "serious risk of harm" to adolescent mental health and called on families to set limits and governments to set stricter standards for use.

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The Surgeon General warns that social media can be harmful to children and adolescents (1)

DoorMatt Richter,Catharina PearsonUMichael Levenson

The country's top health official issued an extraordinary public warning on Tuesday about the risks social media poses to young people, calling for an effort to fully understand the potential "damage to the mental health and wellbeing of children and adolescents".

U19 page advice, the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, notes that the effects of social media on adolescent mental health are not fully understood and that social media may be helpful for some users. However, he wrote: "There is ample evidence that social media can also pose a major risk to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents."

The report included practical recommendations to help families manage their children's use of social media. Families are advised to keep meals and personal gatherings device-free to build social connections and promote conversation. He suggests creating a "family media plan" to set expectations for social media use, including boundaries around content and keeping personal information private.

dr. Murthy also called on tech companies to enforce minimum age limits and create default settings for children with high security and privacy standards. He called on the government to create age-appropriate health and safety standards for technology platforms.

Adolescents "are not just smaller adults," Dr. Murthy said in an interview Monday. "They are at the second stage of development and they are at a critical stage of brain development."

The report, which brought long-simmering concerns about social media into the national conversation, came as state and federal lawmakers, many of whom grew up in an era when social media barely or did not exist, grappled with how to set limits on its use.

Most recently the governor of Montanasigned into law banning TikTokbusiness in the country, which prompted the Chinese application tofile a claimand young TikTok users to complain about what is called "kick in the face.” In March, Utahthe first country to ban social media servicesnot allow users under the age of 18 to have accounts without the express consent of a parent or guardian. This law could drastically limit young people's access to applications such as Instagram and Facebook.

Research results fromPew researchfound that up to 95 percent of teens reported using at least one social media platform, with more than a third saying they use social media "almost constantly." As social media use has increased, adolescent self-reports and clinical diagnoses of anxiety and depression have also increased, along withemergency department visits for self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

The report could prompt further research to understand whether the two trends are related. It joins a growing number of calls to action around adolescents and social media. Earlier this month,The American Psychological Association has issued its first guidelines for social media, which recommends that parents closely monitor teen usage and that tech companies reconsider features such as infinite scrolling and the "Like" button.

In recent years, much research has been conducted on the possible connection between social media use andrising rates of stress among adolescents. But the results were consistent only in their nuances and complexities.

Aanalysis published last year, which examined research from 2019 to 2021 on social media use and mental health, found that “most reviews interpreted the association between social media use and mental health as 'weak' or 'inconsistent,' while a few shared the same connections qualified as 'substantial' and 'harmful'."

Most clearly, the data show that social media can have both positive and negative impacts on youth well-being, and that excessive social media use — and screen time in general — appears to crowd out activities like sleep and exercise. . it is considered crucial for brain development.

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

At the same time, the surgeon general's opinion noted that social media platforms are rife with "extreme, inappropriate and harmful content," including content that can "normalize" self-harm, eating disorders, and other self-destructive behaviors. Online bullying is rampant.

In addition, social media spaces can be particularly stressful for young people, the advisory adds: "In early adolescence, when identities and sense of self are being formed, brain development is particularly sensitive to social pressures, peer opinions and comparisons with peers. Peers. "

The advisory noted that technology companies have an interest in keeping users online and are using tactics that lure people into addictive behaviors. Our children have become unwitting participants in a decade-long experiment.

A spokesman for Meta, the owner of Instagram and Facebook, said the advice included recommendations that were "reasonable and that Meta has largely already implemented". Those measures include automatically setting up private accounts for under-16s when they join Instagram and restricting them the types of content that teenagers can see in the app.

TikTok did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday afternoon.

The consultation did not provide advice on what healthy use of social media might look like, nor did it condemn the use of social media by all young people. Instead, the conclusion is, "We don't yet have enough evidence to determine whether social media is safe enough for children and adolescents."

The position of Surgeon General lacks any real power beyond his potential as a bully pulpit, and Dr. Murthy has no force of law or rule. It is intended, the report says, to draw the attention of Americans to an "urgent public health problem" and to make recommendations on how to solve it.

Similar reports from former surgeonshelped change the national conversationeyesmoking in the sixties, attracted attentionHIV i AIDS 1980-ihand in the early 2000s stated that obesity has becomeepidemic throughout the country. dr. Murthy statedarmed violence become an epidemicand decried what he called "the public health crisis of loneliness, isolation and lack of connection in our country."

In an interview on Monday, Dr. Murthy said the lack of clarity around social media is a heavy burden on users and families.

"It's a lot to ask of parents, to use a new technology that's rapidly evolving and fundamentally changing the way children see themselves," Dr. Murthy said. "So we need to do what we do in other areas where we have product safety issues, which is to set safety standards that parents can rely on that are actually enforced."

Remy Tumin contributed reporting.

Matt Richtel is a Pulitzer Prize-winning best-selling author and journalist from San Francisco. He joined The Times in 2000 and his work focuses on science, technology, business and story-based narratives on these issues. @hrchel

Catherine Pearson is a reporter for The Times' Well section, covering families and relationships.

Michael Levenson joined The Times in December 2019. He was previously a reporter for The Boston Globe, covering local, state and national politics and news.

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